Has Cannabis been Legalised or Gentrified?

Originally published by Simpa in Weed World Magazine Issue 142 (November 2019)

It has now been nearly seven years since Colorado and Washington became the first US states to vote to “legalize” cannabis and in the years that have followed those historic votes, another 9 states have subsequently “legalized” cannabis for adult consumption with Illinois becoming the latest one to join the ever-growing list.

There are another 33 states which also have access via some form of a medical consumption model and New York has just voted to decriminalize after voting down corporate legalization.

Since the implementation of these monumental changes in the US, there has been a global shift in attitudes towards cannabis and other previously demonized and stigmatized substances such as Psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA. These initial baby steps into this brave new world certainly haven’t gone unnoticed by the social elites, cultural engineers, financial demigods, and the heads of industries that have long since owned and operated this neo-liberalistic nightmare of a society we find ourselves currently inhabiting.

The formation of policy think tanks, consultancy agencies, and other specialized businesses signifies that the commodification and ultimately the gentrification of cannabis has begun. This white-washing and gentrifying isn’t anything new, it is part of reefer madness propaganda that stretches back into our recent history and the racist roots of prohibition. The demonization of cannabis that was generated in the first half of the twentieth century led to the arbitrary distinctions we now use to classify the various subgenus of cannabis under prohibition. The categorization of Cannabis Sativa L into the ambiguous and ill-fitting terms of Hemp and Marijuana in the US and Hemp, Herbal cannabis, and Skunk here in the UK is an insidious attempt to rebrand and commodify certain components, strains, and functions of the plant. While still being able to use its continued prohibition to disproportionately target and decimate the lives of ethnic minorities, the poor, disenfranchised, and the sick and dying.

When we look back at our history it is evident that there previously was no such distinction between these cannabis subspecies in the UK. Indeed, the hemp that Henry VIII mandated be grown and that could be utilized to pay taxes will of most certainly been considered cannabis today as it undoubtedly would have contained large amounts of THC and other currently criminalized cannabinoids. The rigging and sails on the ships that stole the lands that created the British empire were all cannabis and not hemp as we would know it today.

The arbitrary limitations placed on the cannabinoid content of cannabis is a consequence of prohibition and one of the single largest impediments to the cultivation of a truly prosperous and sustainable global ecology and economy. Instead what we are seeing today here in the UK is the land-owning gentry seeking to grow hemp under license from the home office to profit while the poor who do the same thing to survive benefit sanctions by cultivating cannabis in their own homes are still getting targeted, raided, and arrested. Creating yet another classist divide in an already deeply divided country.

These arbitrary limitations allowed industrialists to continue utilizing and profiting from cannabis’ industrial properties while continuing to criminalize the subgroups that choose to consume it for its intoxicating qualities. As is epitomized in the below quote from senior Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman.

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people. Do you understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did”.

This current incarnation of corporate “legalisation” does much the same thing by perpetuating this class warfare. It allows corporations to continue to make tens of millions in profits while millions of innocent consumers, cultivators, and political dissenters continue to be criminalized and persecuted by their governments. The gentrifying of cannabis is most obvious in the emerging global CBD market, which is expected to be worth over $20 billion globally in the coming years. Cannabidiol has exploded into the public consciousness in recent years but it is considered just another passing fad by a great deal of the companies that are out there today. They’re simply there to cash-in on the latest trend adding minute amounts of CBD to everything and anything. Such as clear plastic water bottles which means that the fragile compound found within has degraded long before the consumer has chance to consume it) but hands down the weirdest product that I have seen to cash-in on this craze is the hypoallergenic CBD infused pillowcases.

The lesser-psychoactive cannabinoid has in recent years been hailed as a treatment for everything from Anxiety to Alzheimer’s disease and has become that popular that chains such as Holland and Barrett are now even stocking it. This is in my opinion simply creating another classic boom and bust scenario as we’ve seen in housing and technology.

I feel that the only way for CBD to remain relevant is for cannabis to either not be decriminalized or be legalized. This creates an incentive for these companies to either back ubiquitous legalization or actively block decriminalization to protect their share of the market. The UK recently saw its first conviction for the sale of CBD oil containing too much THC. I think it’s safe to say some sweeping changes are coming to the UK market. This case reiterated the current law and classification in the UK prompting several shops to simply cease selling CBD/hemp flowers and sell off remaining CBD oil brands that are currently in contravention of the misuse of drugs act 1971 – which is frankly the majority of the current market as a recent study found that half of the CBD products being sold in the UK does not contain what it says on the label, with many having a lot less of the cannabinoid than claimed and many having illegally high levels of THC in them.

The growing CBD market is emblematic of the gentrifying and co-opting of cannabis by the same vulture capitalists, bankers, and industrialists who sat on the fence for decades and watched as countless activists, advocates, patients, and consumers were oppressed, persecuted, and demonized by their own peers, healthcare professionals, and governments. They do not deserve, nor should they be allowed to profit from any part of the plant while there are still people being locked away in cages for trying to do the same damn thing.

The legal CBD industry is enriching and empowering individuals and companies to dictate and determine how to legalize THC and the rest of the plant for personal profit. We already know that there are representatives from corporate conglomerates from Canada, America, Israel, and others that are working with some rather dubious individuals and shady organizations here in the UK that are utilizing the obscene wealth that they’ve generated in their domestic markets to pay off right-wing British politicians and policymakers to set up think tanks, policy groups and to orchestrate slick media campaigns to dictate and determine drug policies that profits them and not the people they proclaim to fight for and represent.

Just look at the media campaign to legalise access to cannabis for medicinal purposes that took place in the summer of 2018. It was instrumented to get the UK to allow private prescriptions and bring companies like Tilray and Bedrocan into the UK’s ever-growing “medical cannabis” market to compete with the world leader and the Conservative’s favorite cash-cow GW Pharmaceuticals.

GW is arguably the proxy progenitor of the recent resurgent wave of gentrification by showing the rest of the world how to create a legal cannabis monopoly while still proliferating reefer madness propaganda and financing campaigns to ensure that cannabis remains illegal – maximizing profits and maintaining their global dominance as the world’s largest exporter of “Medical Cannabis”

This model of corporate legalization creates some rather unique challenges and unexpected negative consequences. It detrimentally affects the national and local drug economies that have for decades supplied patients and consumers with cannabis, providing jobs and an income for tens of thousands of people up and down the country many of whom would be locked out of a legalized marketplace here in the UK.

The loss of earnings to so-called street dealers and criminalized growers that have risked their liberty for the people for half a century during the dark days of prohibition is something to consider when looking at implementing any legalization model. The same people that have bravely fought for legalization are too often the same ones harmed by the takeover of corporate cannabis as they’re demonized and ostracized by the suits that now run the industry, often (ironically) for having criminal records for working with cannabis.

Under these new systems of strict licenses and corrupt governing bodies, most of those people have become even easier targets as the authorities now have additional funds and control systems to help target them and news agencies to demonize them further helping to protect corporate profit over the rights of the people. Just take a look at what is happening in California, they’ve deployed the national guard to help root-out “illegal” cannabis grows and unregistered farmers destroying tens of thousands of plants.

The corporate chokehold that big business has over the entire state means that thousands of farmers, dispensaries, dealers, and delivery services that would otherwise thrive in a truly legalized system are being targeted, shut down and raided to protect the nauseatingly high profits of “Big Green”.

These corporations are simply here to take the consumers’ money and they’re using it to bankroll corrupt politicians and fund deceptive and divisive media campaigns to disrupt campaigners and direct the progression of drug reforms to financially benefit them and there narrow self-interests above that of the public, consumer or patient.

Show me an example of where cannabis has actually been legalized and not just commodified for vulture capitalists and the corrupt greedy men that govern us to enrich themselves. Not easy, is it? Take, for example, the great white north. Canada has been put on a pedestal recently as the model to follow but Canadian “legalisation” comes with 45 laws and harsh financial and physical penalties for breaking them. It also seeks to actively lock out the very same activists whose blood, sweat, and tears changed public opinion and got it legalized there in the first place for them to profit off.

These days international drug dealers, sorry ‘import/exporters’ wear expensive business suits, fly first class and don’t ever get high on their own supply – or anyone else’s for that matter. As most of the top individuals in this 21st century gentrified cannabis industry has never consumed cannabis nor ever intend to either.

How is it right that the suits that have no idea, indeed no inclination, about the diverse rich history and vibrant subculture that has thrived for decades despite the war on drugs, despite reefer madness, and all the pernicious lies of prohibition and the vile rhetoric that continues to demonize successive generations of consumers be allowed to dictate its fate?

So, if cannabis is to be relegalized anywhere it must first honor and recompense the victims of the war on Cannabis. This must be our highest priority – not profiting from the introduction of prohibition-lite policies. Ultimately, it is my opinion that cannabis has not yet been legalized anywhere in the world. It has, however, been commodified, monopolized, and gentrified by the very same people that have spent decades demonizing and destroying the lives of its defenders.

By Simpa

Simpa Carter
Simpa Carter

Simpa is a passionate drug law reform activist, mental health advocate, blogger, freelance writer, and host of The Simpa Life podcast.