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Too High to Fail

Marijuana, the economy and you
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Doug Fine doesn’t toke up very often—he prefers his marijuana in the form of non-psychoactive hemp oil added to his health shakes every morning—but the investigative journalist fully believes the plant should be legal. In his new book, Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution, the New Mexico-based “solar-powered goat rancher” delves into the many reasons why he thinks legalizing the drug could help boost America’s economy. Recently, he shared a few of them with us.

Cascadia Weekly: How did you come to the realization that marijuana could help turn the nation’s economy around?
Doug Fine: Well, the economics have actually been known for years—Harvard economic Jeffrey Miron puts the post-Drug War cannabis economy at $40 billion per year. It’s America’s number-one crop, though largely untaxed today. After a neighbor was loudly raided for something like a dozen plants, I knew I had to write about drug policy. Instead of complaining, I was looking for a working, sustainable model that was already in place. And boy did I find that in Mendocino County, California. That’s where I followed one locally developed, Sheriff-permitted cannabis strain over a 10-month growing season. The program was an unmitigated success, and that’s what Too High to Fail is about.

CW: Why do you think dope is still illegal in most states in this country?
DF: Inertia. It’s hard to turn off a vast bureaucratic enforcement industry that employs more than 6,000 people just on the federal level. Sometimes, as taxpayers, we accept big bureaucratic machinery. The problem is, the Drug War doesn’t work. Prohibition breeds organized crime. That’s who profits from the status quo, on the business side.

CW: What can people do to help convince lawmakers that laws concerning marijuana cultivation and distribution need to change?
DF: Call your congressperson and senators and tell them you are voting based on their support for getting cannabis out of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and letting states regulate the plant like alcohol. On the local level, attend your county and city government meetings to hammer home these points. In your personal life, speak openly about how serious and important an issue ending the Drug War is. It’s not some college stoner issue—it’s crucial for America.

CW: Tell me a little more about the part of the book where you follow a plant “from seed to patient.”
DF: Specifically, in the “Zip-tie Program” I was following in Mendocino County (whereby farmers paid permitting fees that bestowed a yellow bracelet—a zip-tie—on every one of their plants), farmers are courageous activists, defying immoral federal law to come aboveboard and support their community. The Zip-tie program, in 2011, raised $600,000 and saved seven deputy jobs.

CW: When you’re in Bellingham, you’ll be in a state that has actually legalized marijuana. What advice do you have for lawmakers who are struggling to put all the rules in place for regulating it?
DF: Make sure that sustainability—particularly outdoor cultivation—is written in from the start. This is timely in Washington because state policy makers just last week announced they are now open to outdoor cannabis cultivation. This is vital. When America’s number-one crop becomes part of the taxpaying economy, it must be sustainable. Indoor cultivation generally is not. Next issue: eliminate arbitrary THC blood limits for driving. We need a new mode of sobriety testing that incorporates not just cannabis and alcohol, but America’s real epidemic: prescription pill abuse. Instead of blood tests and breathalyzers, we need case-by-case discernment.

CW: What are some of the possible pitfalls of legalizing cannabis?
DF: Not too many. Youth use rates will go down, overall use rates will stay about the same, and substituting cannabis for alcohol might have positive social effects, like safer roads. Of course, anything at all can be abused, but with about one percent of current Drug War spending, we can implement a viable education and treatment system.

CW: What will attendees at Village Books see during the slideshow you’ll present during your visit here July 11?
DF: I’m a comedic investigative journalist, so the live event will show, via slides and storytelling, a rigorously hard-hitting tale from the front lines of the final days of the Drug War while hopefully keeping people laughing.

Of course, 800,000 people arrested annually for using humanity’s longest utilized plant is no laughing matter, so the event will also discuss the vital importance of bringing about the Drug Peace Era. Also, the book and the live event look at the worldwide drug policy situation, including hemp as well as my experience living in a border state ranch. I further hope that by describing sustainable, locavore organic farmers who are organizing and branding and want to be the next Napa (or microbrew, in beer industry terms), the event can help provide a model for Washington farmers.

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