THE SUPPLY OF LEGAL CANNABIS
THE SUPPLY OF LEGAL CANNABIS[size=12]
# HOWARD MARKS
# This article attempts to give an overview of the polemical issues raised by legalised cannabis supply. My authority to write on the subject derives solely from my thirty years experience as a cannabis smoker, seller, grower, and smuggler. Although I made fortunes, I spent nine years in prison.
# Cannabis smuggling is a wonderfully wide-ranging and fascinating profession, and although its current criminality adds some immature and rebellious romanticism, most of its other attributes can only be enhanced by legalisation. I begin by summarising the present situation, proceed to criticise the current set-up in the Netherlands, suggest possible models for legalised cannabis supply, and finish by discussing what's likely to happen during the transition period.
THE PRESENT ILLEGAL CANNABIS MARKET
# Today's cannabis consumer lies at the end of a process conveniently divided into production, transportation (which often includes the crossing of international frontiers), and domestic distribution
# Production.Traditionally, cannabis seeds are planted in the spring, and the herbaceous plant is harvested during the autumn. In ideal growing conditions, two crops a year may be harvested. harvesting entails cutting down the plants and hanging them upside to dry in the sun. When dry, small stems, flowers, leaves, and (unfortunately) seeds are combined and retained as ordinary marijuana while the largest stalks and stems are discarded.
# Sinsemilla results from a variation of this method. Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive chemical in cannabis, occurs in unpollenated floral clusters usually referred to as buds. Sophisticated and well researched agronomic techniques have been developed to maximise the size of these potent unpollenated floral clusters . Typically, all the male plants are eliminated during the early growth of the plant. This lack of pollenation causes the female plants to enlarge their buds in order to increase their chances of acquiring whatever pollen might be around. The result of this reproductively futile process is a crop of resin-rich buds. Hashish is produced by extracting resin from buds. Shaking, rubbing, and running through densely planted cannabis crops while wearing adhesive clothing are the traditional methods of extraction. The resins are then compacted into a mass. Most ordinary marijuana found in non-importing countries is cultivated by the indigenous population. Almost all hashish is similarly produced. Sinsemilla production is done by both cultivators in traditional source countries and home-growers in the country of consumption.
# Transportation.All three transport modes of land, sea, and air are employed. Individuals own and/or operate private land-vehicles, yachts, and planes, while loosely-knit organisations and alliances also use existing commercial freight systems. Payments to police, customs, military, coastguards, and other individuals in positions of authority are a common feature of these methods. The transportation of cannabis across national boundaries, excepting that of minute supplies for research and therapeutic purposes, is highly illegal and occasions the most punitive penalties 2. Those engaged in this trade often make huge amounts of money, and far too many of them spend several years behind bars 3.
# Domestic Distribution.With the well known exception of the Netherlands (discussed later), all countries enthusiastically prohibit the purchase of even immediately consumable amounts of cannabis. Save for a few off-the-wall countries such as Singapore, the penalties for transgression are relatively small (usually fines rather than prison sentences). Sales of bulk amounts of cannabis are universally proscribed and can attract penalties at least as severe as those for international cannabis transportation. The existence and enforcement of cannabis prohibition, coupled with the popularity of the herb, has spawned a myriad of illegal networks engaged in distribution. It's very hard for a street dealer to continue his business without being busted or, at the very least, being considered and documented as some kind of sociopath. Such casualties of cannabis prohibition have been extensively dealt with elsewhere and are not the subject of this monograph. But let's never forget them.
# Today, the production, export, import, international and domestic transport, and retail distribution of cannabis carries the heavy cost of surviving confiscations by the government and insuring against infiltration by law enforcement. Significant funds are used to establish information valves and blocks that afford protection to one level of distribution from the danger that might occur when an individual or organisation from another level is busted. As a result, current importation and distribution firm are inefficient both in reducing costs and preserving and transmitting useful information. Although this does have the fortunate consequence of supplying people with the opportunity of making a living, it also implies that costs and prices of currently illegal cannabis are inevitably greater than those that would prevail in an untaxed or moderately taxed legal market.
# A sizeable and powerful portion of the electorate believe that the taking of all drugs (in which category they include cannabis but usually exclude alcohol, tobacco, tea, and any legally prescribed pharmaceutical product) is inherently immoral and that the rest of the population should abide by this ethic even if they do not subscribe to it. Articulate and well-reasoned arguments advocating cannabis legalisation and decriminalisation have resoundingly failed to convince these anti-drug crusaders of the irrationality of their position. Unless the concerns of these moral-dictators are properly addressed, we cannot expect them to do other than vigorously maintain their prohibitive stance.
# The administrative agencies and bureaucracies of all countries have self-protective vested interests in maintaining the mythology of the perils of cannabis use. Many British customs officers, policemen, coastguards, solicitors, barristers, judges, probation officers, prison officers, and ancillary and secretarial staff directly benefit from the current prohibition of cannabis.
# Immensely powerful industrial groups such as the tobacco, alcohol, synthetic fibre, pharmaceutical, and fuel industries are terrified of the competition a legal cannabis industry might provide. Cannabis gets you high, is non-addictive, is completely harmless, and it grows virtually anywhere. Neither God nor Nature wishes to sell the patent. One doesn't have to drill mines into Mother Earth nor destroy rain forests to harvest the prolific herb, so some multinationals could go broke. Cry your heart out.
# Many responsible and concerned parents have pointed out to me the only argument against legalisation of cannabis with which I have any kind of sympathy, i.e., it gives their children a mode of rebellion and taboo participation that is absolutely fabulous and harmless. The parents discreetly smoke joints when the children aren't around and pretend a show of disapproval when the children behave likewise. Necessarily, such an attempt to fool the young is short-lived, and I doubt whether the parents in question would offer serious opposition to the legalisation of cannabis.
# Double Dutch.
# During the last twenty or so years, government regulation has successfully integrated cannabis use into Dutch society while at the same time prosecuting the still illegal wholesale trade upon which the legal retail outlets completely depend. These contradictory policies have spawned some unfortunate states of affairs. Although the koffeeshop operations themselves directly serve the public without presenting any evidence of violence or participation of professional criminals, there are undoubtedly groups of organised criminals in the supply chain. Predictably, zealous prosecutors have intensified observation and investigation of the supply sources of koffeeshops4. This in turn has led to the necessity of greater criminal sophistication, which in its turn has led to an exponential increase in prosecutorial zeal and the embracing of 'international co-operation' in matters of cannabis interdiction. 'International co-operation' in the context of drug law enforcement is a euphemism for a sickening pandering to a bunch of prevaricating United States senators and Congressmen, who are busily Pied Pipering an hysterical and brainwashed American public. The capitulation of Dutch authorities to United States extradition requests for cannabis offenders is deplorable, shameful, and shabby5. This is particularly abhorrent when one realises that life imprisonment without parole is now the standard United States sentence for large scale or repeating cannabis offenders and that even the death penalty is a real and legally allowed sanction.
# Despite the widely appreciated irrationality and blatant hypocrisy of this situations Dutch authorities and lawmakers are pathetically paralysed, frantically citing American initiated international treaties and conventions as excuses and explanations for their static inertia. Although I am eternally grateful for what the Dutch have done for cannabis offenders, I beg them to complete the process and stop kow-towing to America.
# There are countless advantages to legalisation. It will no longer be necessary for cannabis consumers to acquire cannabis from illegal sources that force law abiding citizens to adopt mantles of crime. Prohibition related crime (which commonly includes murder, violence, kidnap, theft, and fraud) and its pathological consequences will disappear. Sufferers of asthma, glaucoma, epilepsy, cancer, constricted bronchioles, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, migraine, pruritis, and insomnia will be more likely to obtain relief6. Nasty side effects caused by medically prescribed tranquillisers, sleepers, analgesics, and anti-emetics will be replaced by getting pleasantly stoned.
THE SUPPLY OF LEGAL CANNABIS
# Virtually all proposals for the legalising of cannabis share the common grounds of (1) assuming the cannabis market is irrepressible, (2) insisting that marketed cannabis carry a strictly worded, government approved health warning, and (3) maintaining the illegality of the sale of cannabis to children7. The areas of disagreement in legalisation proposals tend to occur when consideration is given to the degree, if any, of government intervention.
# Monopoly or near monopoly obtains when the bulk of services is provided by one, or very few, business enterprises or government administrative agencies. Some legalisation models have proposed a state monopoly of supply with all advertising illegal. Such a system more often than not leads to a relatively stable but hopelessly bureaucratised structure in which people perform routine roles as functionaries. In an oligopoly a handful of enterprises constitute a cartel and dominate the market.
# This system seems equally hampered by bureaucratic paralysis. At the other extreme others have suggested that production and distribution be undertaken by a large number of relatively small competing private enterprises subject to government regulation.
# Yet others have explicitly limited state participation to as near as possible to zero to punish them for having unleashed the violence and evils of prohibition on a well-meaning, peace-loving generation8.
# Although fettering the cannabis market is no more justified than fettering any other market, the governments that tend to exist in Great Britain and elsewhere are unlikely to consciously vote themselves out of taking, through the administrative vehicle of regulation, a hefty slice of the action9.
# As far as possible, regulations should be closely linked and totally dependent upon obvious and agreed failures and mistakes committed by the hitherto unregulated producers and suppliers. The government should be allowed to intervene with its cudgel of regulation only if there is good reason to believe an improvement in consumer satisfaction will be achieved.
# Eventually, cannabis should be available in the same way as tea, coffee, or medicinal
# herbs. There is a general move back to medicine based on organic compounds. This
# is partly due to the greater dissemination of Asian herbal treatments and partly due
# to the public distrust of money-grabbing pharmaceutical companies which deliberately exclude the use of vegetable compounds for their own commercial gain of patenting synthetic chemicals. Agricultural products are generally exempt from legislation covering processed food. Psilocybin magic mushrooms, for example, are free from drug and excise laws. Cannabis should be equally blessed. Unfortunately, legalised cannabis is more likely to be regulated in the same way as tobacco and alcohol;. Organisations advocating legalisation have been reluctant to argue against this, probably feeling that their goals would be impossible to attain without such concessionlâ€º.
# Who Is Going to Do It?
# Since the 1960s, there has been an almost universally prevalent belief that large tobacco companies, such as Phillip Morris, in anticipation of cannabis legalisation have registered trade names such as Acapulco Gold and Panama Red. I have known many swear this to be true. In fact, it is not. In 1970, a group called Amorphia sent somebody to go through the files of the United States Patent Office and found that nobody had registered the name Acapulco Gold. Amorphia applied for the name, hoping to use it to market rolling papers. The application was refused because Acapulco Gold is a generic name for a kind of marijuana, and generic names cannot be copyrightedl l. It doesn't really matter, of course, because Marco Polo's Bullshit will outsell Panama Red if it provides a better smoke.
# This copyright mythology has helped engender the belief that tobacco companies will be the ones to market legal cannabis. Actually, there is no reason on earth to think that tobacco companies rather than other companies are more likely to get into the legalised cannabis business.
# With unashamed selfishness, I love to envisage the running of legalised cannabis supply to be carried out by some of those who have already committed themselves to, or have experience in, the current illegal supplying of cannabis. Although different skills might well be required in the importation and retail distribution areas (driving ability, commercial freight expertise, and shopkeeping prowess rather than street-wisdom and deviousness), the same cannot be said to be true of the production process, where the same skills will be in demand. Nor is it true of the exportation of cannabis from most of the countries where it has been grown for millennia. From these countries, exportation of illegal commodities differs in little or no way from the exportation of legal commodities: officials are paid, and the job is done. It would be a great pity not to salvage the many honourable, trust-laden, and fruitful relationships and alliances that have been established between growers (and other participants in the countries of origin) and importers resident in the destination rallntries.
THE TRANSITION PERIOD
THE SUPPLY OF LEGAL CANNABIS
# Likelihood of change.
# For each of the last thirty years, I have expected a declaration of the imminent legalisation of cannabis. Each year, I have been wrong. the canons of inductive logic compel me to believe I will carry on being wrong. But there is a case for growing optimism. there are more marijuana smokers of voting age than ever before. Also, a greater number than ever before of non-users are now aware of what cannabis is, its harmlessness, and the irrational objections to the abolition of its prohibition. Older, generally more conservative people are, albeit far too slowly, leaving the political system. Although the contributions to sanity made by the young replacements have so far been few, a political leader prepared to admit the inhaling of what he smoked is bound to eventually emerge. Meanwhile, evidence of cannabis's therapeutic qualities continues to pile up and be endorsed by respected and authoritative members of the medical professionl2.
# It remains only for cannabis to become socially acceptable. It has been held that lower classes tend to use cannabis as a general intoxicant while upper classes use it as a stimulant. The working classes, therefore, remain criminal while the aristocrats continue to be merely decadent. As cannabis becomes more and more of a middle class activity, the distinction between decadence and crime blurs, and legalisation is inevitable.
# Mechanics of Transition.
# The transition from the current illegal market to a regular market will not happen overnight, and it will not happen smoothly. Large sections of the public will be resistant to the change and are certain to demand what they regard as protective measures before allowing legalisation to be initiated. Sales might be restricted to licensed dealers, or even qualified pharmacists. There will be coercive attempts to enforce regulation along the lines of that governing alcohol and tobacco. Drug testing will probably skyrocket, particularly for some occupations, and there will be all sorts of penalties for driving or engaging in paid employment when traces of cannabis are detected in urine.
# Although I have never known of anyone seeking medical treatment for the effects of cannabis use, some of those who oppose legalisation inexplicably envisage legal cannabis putting an additional burden on the National Health Service. Who knows what suggestions might be made from those quarters with respect to taxation and regulation.
# The constant media bombardment of carefully selected phrases such as 'drug related crime,' rather than the accurate 'prohibition caused crime,' will also give rise to spurious concerns that might have to be addressed by a certain amount of transitional regulation. Some of this interim regulation will insist on informative and accurate labelling giving the cannabis's THC contents impurities, origin, date of production, and other characteristics. I doubt if there will be too much in the way of objection to this from those in favour of legalisation.
# There will also be resistance to legalisation from unexpected quarters. The hardened and heavy pot smoker is often convinced that should cannabis be legalised, either government or big business or both will inevitably wreck the quality and the quantity of the product available. Many consumers will continue to prefer to buy cannabis in the manner to which they are accustomed. Commercialism and other capitalistic characteristics might turn cannabis into a bland, ineffectual, designer-produced non-entity, just like non-tox beer and sliced breadl3. Make it legal, then stop it from getting one high. There is no need to adopt these trappings of American Puritanism - the haunting fear that someone, somewhere might be happy. Getting high is OK
# 1. For a first class description and discussion of applications for a computer spreadsheet-based, comprehensive 'system description' of the quantity and llow of marijuana from cultivation, through international transportation, to domestic distribution, and ultimately to consumption, please see A System Description of the Marijuana Trade by Michael Childress, prepared for the United States Army RAND's Drug Policy Research Center.
# 2. There has, however, been a recent, interesting, and hopeful decision by the European court of Justice in Luxembourg in which the Court agreed that the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 (United Nations Treaty Series 520) allowed contracting countries to prohibit imports of narcotic drugs into their territories but did not require them to adopt such a measure.There was further agreement that when an international agreement such as a United Nations convention allowed but did not require a member country to adopt a measure which appeared to be contrary to European Community law (in this case Article 30 of the EEC Treaty, which prohibits quantitative restrictions on imports), the member country had to refrain from adopting it. See the European Law Report, The Times, May 10th, 1995.
# 3. See, Hawks Ascendant: The Punifive Trend of American Drug Policy by Peter Reuter, Daedalus, Vol. 121, No. 3, pp. 15-22.
# 4. See, Recent Changes in the Dutch Cannabis Trade: The Case for Regulated Domestic Production by Mario Lap and Ernest Drucker, International Journal for Drug Policy, Vol. 5, No. 4, 1994.
# 5. A recently deceased and dearly loved friend and codefendant of mine, John Denbigh, in 1991, won his fight against extradition from Canada to the United States on purely cannabis offences. He returned to his Amsterdam home, where he was promptly arrested by the Dutch authorities and extradited to the United States on precisely the same grounds as those rejected by the Canadian courts.Another codefendant of mine, Ronald Robb, who also lived in Amsterdam, was arrested in the Philippines on the basis of an American extradition request. Eventually, it was discovered that there was no extradition treaty between the United States and the Phillipines. The Phillipine, Dutch, and American authorities put their heads together, deported Ronald from the PhiUipines to the Netherlands, then estradited him from Amsterdam to the United States.
# Yet another Amsterdan-resident codefendant of mine, Jim Hobbs, was extradited to the United States. The only allegation presented against him was that he took phone messages for me at hisresidence. The Dutch courts had total jurisdiction to deal with the 'offence,' but they preferred to hand him over to the DEA.
# 6. See Marihuana, the Forbidden Medicine, Lester Grinspoon, M.D., and James Bakalar, Yale University Press, 1993.
# 7. Referring to psycho active substances generally, the philosopher and social reformer John Stuart MiU expressed this sentiment weU over a hundred years ago in On Liberry, 1859.
# 8. See Can Markets Cope with Drugs? by Richard Stevenson, Journal of Drug Issues, Vol. 20, No. 4, 1990, pp 65-66.
# 9. For example, the National Drug Strategy Monograph Series, No. 26, Legislafive Opfions for Cannabis in Australia cites control purity and strength among the various types of regulation that would be possible following cannabis legalisation. Infractions of these regulations would incursignificant financial penalties payable to the government.
# 10. For instance, in a June 1988 report to the United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana
# Laws (NORML) recommended that states should regulate the sale of marijuana as they do alcohol.
# 11. I owe this revelation to my reading of Michael R Aldrich's exceUent A Brief History of Marijuana (presented to the Western Institute of Drug Problems Marijuana Conference, Portland, Oregon, August 7th, 1971).
# 12. To keep up to date with cannabis's medical benefits, contact Alliance for Cannabis Therapeuticss P.O. Box CR14, Leeds LS7 4XF, Fax: 01532 371000.
# 13. Paradoxically, this likely consequence of legalisation has been instrumental in persuading opponents of legalisation to switch sides. For example, United States Federal Judge James C. Paine (who, incidentally, sentenced me to 25 years for marijuana offences) approves of legalising cannabis because such a move would result in cannabis getting weaker and, therefore, less harmful!