(This column appears in the September issue of Marijuana Business Magazine.)
As the United States confronts centuries of racism from authorities charged with keeping us safe, citizens are rightly debating how far we should go to reform police departments.
Can they be overhauled to truly protect and serve, or must police departments be dismantled and replaced with new organizations to keep the peace while respecting human rights?
There are strong opinions on both sides. So here’s an idea that won’t be nearly as controversial with the general public: Let’s defund the plant police.
I’m talking about the enormous new bureaucracies spawned by the 2014 and 2018 U.S. Farm Bills, two well-intentioned attempts to legalize low-THC cannabis known as hemp while maintaining marijuana prohibition through a vigorous system of testing the cannabis to make sure it’s the “good” kind.
The problem is that this vigorous testing system costs money—a lot of money, and money that no state department of agriculture has to spare. So every state has turned to hemp growers to foot the bill.
I get it: Why take precious tax dollars out of schools and hospitals to create a new plant police force to monitor the cannabinoid levels of a bunch of plants that frankly don’t care how much THC their flowers are producing?
But there’s a cost beyond the stupidly exorbitant licensing and permitting fees. And that cost is the perpetuation of a racist system that, frankly, no one wants to perpetuate.
No Poor People Allowed
In my home state of Georgia, lawmakers from both parties recently voted to increase the annual fees on hemp processors from $10,000 per year to $50,000 per year. The measure also requires hemp farmers to test every single crop for THC, not take just a random sampling—at the farmers’ expense, of course.
It’s an outrage. Because this kind of thinking doesn’t just milk an industry too new to complain. It perpetuates generational inequality by limiting participation to people with $50,000 sitting around. There’s no payment plan for interested entrepreneurs who don’t have five figures to burn on a new venture.
Georgia is only one example. State after state is piling on fees to hemp operators to the extent that we’re going to be left with a hemp industry that’s even more full of white males than it is now, if you can imagine such a thing.
A Way Out
So what if we … just didn’t? Fund the testing regime, I mean.
Would lawbreakers across the nation start growing higher-THC cannabis strains? Sure. Would that make a big difference to public health and safety? I think we all know the answer.
So let’s continue to experiment with hemp. There’s no long-established profession of hemp testers to feel insulted by the suggestion of not funding them. No fears that unruly high-THC hemp plants are going to bust loose and start pillaging small towns. Hemp gives us a perfect platform for experimenting with ratcheting back enforcement without making serious changes to societal norms.
We might just discover that industry and regulators alike are happier without plant police.
Kristen Nichols can be reached at [email protected]