The ethical arguments for legalizing marijuana are abundant and compelling—from reducing mass incarceration to funding treatments for addicts. But now that it’s legal in Maine, and state after state seems poised to follow suit, there’s a new, more complex question to consider: how can you be an ethical smoker?
It’s hard to admit, but weed can be harmful when taking environmental impacts and supply chains into account, making its prominence in hippie culture a tricky subject. Veteran stoners around Portland say there are a few major things to keep in mind for being a conscious consumer, now that the hardest part—legalization—is finally out of the way.
First, buy local. Surprise! The same criticism that applies to major consumer industries, from coffee to clothing, is a driving force of weed’s most harmful impacts. Locally grown weed reduces the environmental impacts of cultivation and transport. Smaller operations require less land, energy, and pesticide use, and the product doesn’t have to travel as far to get to you, which reduces its carbon footprint and also means the quality of your weed is likely to be higher. In Maine, we won’t be getting recreational dispensaries until 2018, which means that for now, it’s technically only legal to grow it yourself—but since most of us don’t have the kind of space, money, tools, time, or, let’s face it, desire, to start our own mini-farms, it’s important to find a local dealer.
“It’s always nice to be closer to the source on the supply chain,” said one respondent. “I try to buy locally grown when I can.”
And yes, it’s harder if you’re buying it on the sly—but it never hurts to ask. “In my current communities, the people I’ve done business with buy from local growers, and that’s the most of my knowledge,” another respondent said. “As this culture moves more into the mainstream, I’m eager to see what happens to the progress of ethical consumption.”
Anyone who’s lived in Maine longer than five minutes has probably noticed that it has a strong locally-grown scene, and that’s proved to be an effective defense against encroachment by chain companies of all sorts. Keeping our money local means the smaller dispensaries will be stronger against any inevitable big business takeover efforts.
There’s another, more important reason for buying local: it’s one of the strongest safeguards against exploitation of people on the front lines of the drug war. The disastrous human rights impact of buying any drugs on the black market are well-known, and that does not exclude marijuana. Cartel violence is still raging in South and Central America, despite legalization advances, and although that’s a stronger argument for continued decriminalization of all drugs, buying local—or at least domestic—has already helped take a multi-million dollar chunk out of marijuana cartels. (This, in turn, has prompted cartels to up their production of heroin and methamphetamine—which some say makes advocating the legalization and regulation of those drugs an ethical imperative, too.)
“I think it makes it easier to feel like an ethical consumer because we don’t have to buy Mexican weed, which is fraught with ethical questions regarding the exploitation of Mexican workers,” another respondent said. Weed from that region “enriches really awful people in Mexico—the narcotraficantes (the big dealers) as well as local gangs and insanely corrupt politicians. Maine-grown weed is free of all that.”
Beyond buying local, ethical stoners—especially those of us who are less likely to get in legal trouble for smoking it—have an obligation to support strong regulation efforts, which in turn will enforce standards of quality for our well-funded local suppliers.
There’s still a lot up in the air about regulating the market once legal sales begin—like how much suppliers will be charged for permits, whether caregivers will get the same access to the marketplace as dispensaries, and what kind of limits a town can impose on facilities or smoking clubs. Some districts are even considering just banning recreational sales altogether. And once legal sales get going, there will be important questions to consider about how to ensure equality for women and minority-owned businesses. If you’re a concerned stoner, being involved in the dialogue and organizing around these issues is an important obligation.