As I was reading today’s Denver Post article (http://www.denverpost.com/news/marijuana/ci_16239152) on the journey of Medical Marijuana legalization in California, Colorado, and elsewhere, and the journey of Proposition 19, to outright legalize and tax small quantities of marijuana possession or growth, on this year’s ballot in California, I was struck by one surprising parallel: That between the current illegal growers, and the 18th century American colonial tea smugglers who were major catalysts of the original “tea parties” in major cities up and down the Eastern Seaboard. You see, many illegal growers (particularly those in Humbolt County in the north, long a major haven of illegal pot cultivation) oppose Proposition 19, because, though it serves everyone’s interests but their own, it promises to cut into their profits and alter their familiar and preferred way of life. And that’s exactly what motivated the smugglers (closely intertwined with the original “pirates of the Caribbean”), who happily smuggled Dutch East India Tea Company (“Dutch”) tea to the colonies, in order to avoid the taxes and mark-ups that accumulated on British East India Tea Company (“British”) tea on its journey from India to London, and from London to America, passing through various brokers’ hands. It was when the British cut out the London middlemen, and lowered (not raised) the taxes on British tea (which the colonists had always been legally obligated to buy), that the smugglers helped stir up the more idealistic rebels (like Sam Adams), and whip the coastal elites, with which the smugglers had close ties, into a frenzy.
I doubt that the Humboldt County growers will have quite the same impact, but the similarities are striking.
That’s not the only thing I noticed about the article. I also noticed another example of the ecology of human social institutional change (see “The Evolutionary Ecology of Audio-Visual Entertainment (& the nested & overlapping subsystems of Gaia”). You see, once medical marijuana became legalized, it became big business, creating “money and friends,” as the Post article put it. And once it became big business, it meant jobs, creating union friends. And the promise of profits and jobs while still mired in “the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression” means hope, political hay, and a lot of others saying “what the hey.” On top of that, the NAACP got on board, reasonably enough seeing the unnecessary and destructive incarceration of (often African American) youths for a crime that shouldn’t be a crime as an afront to civil rights and the creation rather than deprivation of opportunity. With a “budding” industry promising profits and jobs, a growing familiarity with legal marijuana in more and more communities, and a potentially robust economic activity and public revenue generator, what seemed very distant in the mid-90′s became close-at-hand at the end of the 00′s. Such is the nature of realignments; dominoes falling in branching succession, as more and more people find change to be in their own interests.
But such ecosystems of mutual reinforcing interests aren’t without predators and prey, and other conflicting interests in competition. And so we come back to our Humboldt County growers, who are concerned that legalization will put them out of business, or at the very least depress prices and reduce profits. Like the real interests behind those face-painted Sons of Liberty before them, their fortunes lie with the illegal and untaxed T, not with the legal and taxed variety.