The Trib takes a serious look at Kinky Friedman’s campaign platform.
Currently, it is illegal to grow and possess marijuana in Texas and most other states, and while hemp is legal for consumption, Texas and most other states do not allow farmers to grow it.
Experts with experience in the legal pot industry in other states, though, say a host of regulatory and environmental factors could complicate any potential benefits growing marijuana might have in Texas.
States that have recently legalized marijuana growing, including Colorado and Washington, have just gotten started, so they are difficult test cases to assess. But in California, where medicinal marijuana cultivation has been legal since 1996 and is plentiful, many farmers say the crop hasn’t been as good for agriculture as Friedman has suggested.
Much of the problems farmers and scientists in California report stem from the fact that under federal law, the plant remains illegal, so states cannot legally regulate its growth as they do other crops.
“Without prohibition, you wouldn’t have this problem,” said Tony Silvaggio, an environmental sociologist at Humboldt State University in California, who has researched the effects of marijuana farming in California.
“We don’t know anything empirical about what happens when serious professional farmers are allowed to do this,” said Jonathan Caulkins, who has studied the economics of marijuana growth at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College in Pittsburgh. But he suspects the price of marijuana would fall if it was mass produced, which could reduce its demand in the black market and reduce crime.
That doesn’t mean Texas farmers would benefit, though. Marijuana plants are difficult to harvest because the buds must be individually snipped from each plant. That work is labor intensive, and most farm workers today don’t have those skills.
The market for marijuana producers is also unlikely to get very big, Caulkins said, because it’s a high-yield crop. Only about 10,000 acres nationwide would be needed to satisfy the country’s demand, he said. If farmers grow more marijuana, they could oversaturate the market and drive down prices.
Hemp, on the other hand — which comes from the same plant as marijuana but has less THC, the chemical that produces a high — is easier to harvest, and demand in the U.S. is rising. Friedman has suggested that the first step to marijuana legalization is to allow Texans to grow hemp, which is used in a variety of products, from clothing and twine to edible seeds, protein powder and cosmetics such as moisturizers and essential oils.
Hemp has long been legal in Canada, but only a few hundred growers have licenses to produce there, Caulkins said. That doesn’t bode well for predictions of a hemp revolution in Texas that Friedman argues would occur if the state legalized growing it. A Congressional Research Service report on hemp last year came to a similar conclusion, noting that hemp crops can also cross-pollinate with marijuana crops. That means farmers growing hemp could suddenly find that their product has enough THC content to make people high, putting them in the crosshairs with the law — or that marijuana growers’ products would lose their potency.
Even if hemp and marijuana growth become possibilities for Texas farmers, it’s not clear that it would be a moneymaking enterprise. Those who profit most from agricultural production are typically at the end of the supply chain, like grocery stores or bakers, Caulkins said — not farmers.
“The people who are going to make money are going to be the bakeries that buy [it] … and put it into brownies,” he said.
I don’t know, given the local food movement these days, I wouldn’t underestimate the appeal of artisanal, locally-sourced reefers. It’s all in the marketing. Most of the problems cited in the story stem from the federal prohibitions against marijuana. That’s not something Texas can address directly, but just as action by cities tends to lead to a legislative response from the state, I expect that having more states legalize pot in some fashion will lead to changes in federal law. Attitudes about marijuana are shifting, thanks in large part to growing concerns about the cost of the War On Drugs. I won’t be surprised to see some kind of federal action, even if it’s strictly on the incarceration end, by the end of President Obama’s term in office. Texas could almost certainly accelerate that process if it reformed its marijuana laws, even if that just means accommodating medical marijuana. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and if the main obstacle to Kinky Friedman’s fondest dreams is the feds, there are things we can do to affect that.