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We Still Have a Lot to Learn About Cannabis

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A new bill proposing the federal legalization of cannabis has been introduced to the Senate by Ron Wyden, a Democratic representative from Oregon. So far, well over half of the states (33 of them), as well as the capital of the United States government, the District of Columbia have moved forward with cannabis legalization in the past few years. However, due to the federal law still prohibiting cannabis use of any sort, there are still many roadblocks for those now working on building the legal North American cannabis industry.

Much of the most significant concerns of those affected by the growing industry is focused on how the industry should be laid out and how it should look as it transforms from black market growing operations and small legal farms to mega-sized industrial farms. In the past, the government has made it rather difficult for researchers to more closely examine the advantages and disadvantages of cannabis whether for its medicinal values, recreational values, or otherwise.

Also, until recently, universities across the country weren’t exactly lining up to found and fund cannabis studies. That, however, seems to be changing as quickly as state legislation opens up for cannabis across the country.

Recently, UC Berkeley launched a new Cannabis Research Center to begin taking on many of these unknown elements concerning cannabis. The major focus of the new center is to gather as much information as possible to better inform future lawmakers and industry leaders, making cannabis safer for everyone. That said, being so close to the heart of the historically famous California cannabis underground, Berkley will be able to examine the case of cannabis and its impact on everything from individuals and the environment to all of society.

In Northern California’s Mendocino and Humboldt counties, cannabis cultivators generally fall into one of three categories. Some growers work their land, without the state permits now required by law. Others work their land, however, only after obtaining the legally required permits. The last category of California cannabis cultivators is what many call “guerilla growers.” This type of grower will secretly install equipment into federally protected land and perform black market cultivation operations.

For researchers, it is hard to get a solid idea of how many growers there are and how much actual cultivation is going on due to these various types of operations. Furthermore, many of these growers do not want to be discovered.

In order to combat these unknown numbers, the co-director of the Cannabis Research Center, Van Butsic, and his small army of undergraduates have been examining high-resolution satellite images to get a better idea of how many undocumented cultivation operations actually exist. For the most part, this is easier than it may sound, as most any significant sized grow op must be positioned where the plants can receive large amounts of direct sunlight. That said, many of the illegal growers working off of federal lands plant their crops in the cover of brush to remain undetected.
All of the above taken into consideration, Butsic and his undergraduates at the research center have been quite successful in creating a much better picture of the entirety of cannabis cultivation operations in Northern California. Eventually, with the aid of this new data, researchers will soon have better answers to questions concerning the impact of cannabis cultivation on the environment. For example, how much wildlife is being poisoned from rodenticides and what is the water usage difference between a large number of small farms versus larger industrial-sized farms?

Currently, it is unclear how exactly all of these unknown factors associated with the different forms of cannabis cultivation impact the environment. Furthermore, the data collected by Butsic and his students will also aid in protecting endangered species from the negative impacts, protect waterways, and much more.

Butsic and the research center established by Berkeley has been working on gathering data since 2015. That said, the researches are in the unique position of being able to pinpoint the differences before and after the state legalized cannabis.

On another note, California cannabis cultivators of the old school are finding it hard to adjust to the newly legal industry. One cultivator located in Northern California, for example, has spent no less than $120,000 on fees and consultations to bring his operations into the legal realm. This grower is far from alone. Cultivators all over the state are faced with the similar struggles; either deal with massive amounts of red tape in the form of regulations, taxes, fees, permits, and more or continue operating illegally and hope for the best.

“The community is pretty unique, and it’s not clear it’ll survive legalization because as things become capitalized and professionalized, supply chains change. It’s unclear that this culture that was created to support medical cannabis and cannabis in general will be able to be maintained,” said Butsic.

The above statement by Butsic is indicative of the need to continue researching the ongoing legal and social changes in the famous cannabis culture of Northern California. As of now, policymakers have very little proven information to base their legislation on which makes building the industry extremely difficult.

On city which attempting to right the wrongs of the past few centuries war on drugs is Oakland. The city requires that 50 percent of cannabis business permits must be awarded to “equity applicants, which means, they must go to persons who’ve been convicted of a cannabis-related crime or has lived for at least 10 out of the past 20 years in an area with a higher than average number of cannabis-related arrests.

However, righting the wrongs of the war on drugs isn’t such an easy process. As the executive director of the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy, Dominic Corva, explains.
“With people from disadvantaged backgrounds, it doesn’t help to get them ownership into an industry that is going to lose money until they’re bankrupt. Because that’s what’s happening with most cannabis businesses for some reasons, chief among them is the fact that it’s regulated like toxic waste. Everything is more expensive and more difficult.”

“There’s no long-term policy thinking,” Corva went on to say, arguing that more funding for shaping better public policy is needed.

There is yet another side to the issues California’s fledgling cannabis culture is facing as well: the side of the local cannabis consumers. For example, to create child-proof packaging, large amounts of waste in the form of plastic is now being created at alarming rates — yet another environmental concern to consider in the bigger picture.

“I think that the environmental impact of the additional plastics is really something that has not been addressed at any level, yet there are in California mandates about plastic bags and other plastics in the environment,” says an industry analyst employed by CannaCraft, Joanna Cedar. “Maybe we don’t need to have that level of child-resistant packaging on something that doesn’t pose any risk to children in the first place.”

All in all, it is painfully clear that we still have a lot to learn about cannabis. More research is desperately needed, and it is needed soon if there is any real hope of federal legalization of cannabis taking place anytime in the near future.

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