Salvia Plath

Salvia Plath

You Are What You Smoke (or Eat, or Vape, or Dab)

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." - Aldo Leopold

It’s just about harvest time for outdoor cannabis growers in Maine, and by the end of the month, 14 marijuana farming operations are set to be accredited by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) Certified Clean Cannabis program, otherwise known as MC3.  

Now in its second year, MC3 provides third-party verification that a cannabis crop is grown, processed, and handled within guidelines parallel to the federal Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) and the American Herbal Products Association. Those guidelines govern everything from seeds to soil to pest control, and they require rigorous record-keeping.

The “clean” stamp helps establish trust within a nascent industry, growers say. By seeking certification, says Erica Haywood, owner of LoveGrown Caregiver Services in Farmington, “I wanted to go above and beyond in reassuring the families I work with...that what they were getting when they hired me was the best you can get in the state of Maine.” Haywood was an initial 2016 trial participant and is on the MC3 grower advisory board.

Because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, the US government doesn’t recognize it as a legitimate crop for “organic” certification (one more argument for national legalization...). But in Maine and in some Western states where cannabis has been legalized, groups have adopted other terms to signal the same exact thing — that the weed you’re about to smoke was grown according to the same strict standards as the organic broccoli you put in your stir fry last night.

“Cannabis is an emerging cash crop for a growing number of Maine farmers,” MOFGA executive director Ted Quaday said upon the launch of MC3 last year. “A certification program will enable those growers to assure cannabis users that their medical cannabis is grown under strict production standards focused on environmentally sound practices and natural sources of soil fertility.”

While MC3 is focused for now on medical marijuana growers, there’s little doubt that as Maine’s adult-use program gets off the ground (the legislature is expected to take up the omnibus regulatory bill in a special session this month), there will be increased interest in MOFGA’s “clean” certification from all corners. Indeed, MC3 director Chris Grigsby tells the Phoenix that he fields constant inquiries and, “we’re preparing for growth, for sure.” They’re also working on standards to certify processed products (such as edibles or tinctures); right now they inspect raw cannabis only.

Already, the program has more than doubled in size; where five farmers took part in the 2016 trial, 14 are participating during this growing season. When applications for 2018 open in February, Grigsby is anticipating an even more crowded field.

Along the way, hopes John Krueger, a MOFGA board member who helped spearhead MC3, consumers will grow increasingly familiar with the brand — and eventually, they’ll seek out clean cannabis the way they hunt down organic, fair-trade coffee. “We think there always will be room for people who are concerned with the organic label,” he says.

But it’s more than just a selling point — sustainably grown cannabis is a no-brainer from ethical, environmental, and personal health points of view, too. Whether you’re interested in keeping nutrients in the soil or keeping dangerous pesticide chemicals out of your lungs, pot grown according to organic standards is a sounder choice.

Meanwhile, MC3 has been approached to consult on the formation of a new national program, the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC) — formed through the recent merger of the Denver-based Organic Cannabis Association and the Ethical Cannabis Alliance of Portland, Oregon. The natural soap company Dr. Bronner’s is ponying up seed money for the venture. `

“The organic integrity of cannabis is important for health and environmental reasons,” CEO David Bronner recently told Marijuana Business Daily. “Food...and body care products laced with chemicals and synthetic ingredients are increasingly on their way out. People want to buy products they know are good for their bodies, their families, and the earth. Cannabis is no different.”

In Maine, MC3 is providing a way for consumers to choose their marijuana according to that ethos.

 

The glass ceiling: cracked, but intact — When it comes to gender parity, don't let the cannabis industry fall behind

“Jane,” a caregiver in Oxford County, has been growing cannabis for more than a decade; an older female friend of her mother was the one who initially introduced her to the plant’s medicinal properties. These days, Jane serves multiple patients and has years of expertise under her belt. Yet sometimes, she still finds herself forced to assert herself among her male counterparts. Jane has resorted to “interrupting, talking over — even raising my voice — to be heard in a discussion about cannabis in a group of men numerous times,” she told me.

Jane, who asked to use a pseudonym while Maine’s marijuana laws remain nebulous, finds that being a woman in the cannabis industry comes with various challenges, including working alongside “predominately male associates and competitors...and lack of acknowledgement by these male growers of my knowledge and experience.”

But as a pot boom sweeps Maine and the nation, will Jane have to fight to be heard a little less often?

Recent surveys have shown that women (including moms, but that’s fodder for another column) now comprise roughly half of cannabis consumers in the United States, and that the gender gap has narrowed on the business end, as well.

A report released this month from Marijuana Business Daily shows that within the cannabis sector nationwide, women own and/or founded roughly a quarter of all businesses; they hold 27 percent of executive-level roles; they comprise 42 percent of the senior positions at “ancillary services companies” — such as law or marketing firms — and 35 percent of leadership roles at medical dispensaries and recreational stores. When it comes to cultivation, that number drops to 22 percent.

This level of female representation is higher than in any other industry (leading Newsweek to once declare, “Legal Marijuana Could Be the First Billion-Dollar Industry Not Dominated by Men”). And as more and more states implement medical or recreational marijuana programs and the sector grows, many see an opportunity to proactively promote inclusivity from the get-go, as opposed to tackling it once sexist or otherwise discriminatory structures have already been established (ahem, Silicon Valley).

After all, this is an industry with abundant opportunities for females, says Gia Morón, director of communications for Women Grow, a national organization founded in 2014 to empower and encourage women in cannabis. From moms introduced to the plant because their children rely on it as medicine, to retirees for whom a marijuana business can provide increased financial security, there are many entry points for women in all stages of life. Indeed, Morón notes, “the beauty of the industry, in my opinion, is that women...are not aged out.”

Still, control over roughly one-quarter of the industry is far from parity. Female farmers like Jane continue to face challenges specific to their line of work, including physical ones. For those who see cannabis as a commodity, rather than medicine, securing capital can be a struggle. Stigmas around marijuana persist, making it hard for some women to break into the business.

And in fact, the percentage of women at the helm of cannabis-related companies is down nine percentage points since the last time Marijuana Business Daily put out its survey, in 2015. Two years ago, 36 percent of executive-level positions in cannabis were held by women. Since then, the industry has expanded dramatically.

Is the mainstreaming of marijuana responsible for that nine-point drop? Marijuana Business Daily analyst Eli McVey thinks so.

“The cannabis sector has grown quickly, with new businesses and markets opening at a rapid clip,” McVey noted in a piece accompanying the survey results. “This expansion, combined with rising social acceptance for marijuana use, has attracted scores of entrepreneurs and investors from more mainstream businesses. Cannabis companies also are increasingly plucking executives from corporate America as they mature and the industry becomes more attractive.”

“Consequently, the executive structure of businesses in the traditional economy — where males occupy more than 75 percent of senior roles — has begun to seep into the marijuana industry,” he said.

Uh-oh.

There are clear signs that although the world of cannabis was historically dominated by straight white men, the swiftly shifting legalization landscape is creating openings for women, minorities, and LGBTQ people to gain footing and get ahead. These opportunities must be supported, in Maine and beyond, in order to ensure that the marijuana industry doesn’t go the patriarchal way of corporate America at-large.

 

'Too High'? ― Twenty Percent Pot Tax Sparks Discussion

In my last installment, we discussed how being an ethical smoker includes participating in the legislative process as Maine’s recreational pot regulations take shape.

Folks, the time is nigh.

With lawmakers currently hammering out what the state’s commercial pot program will look like upon implementation next year, it’s now critical for those of us interested in eventually buying or selling recreational marijuana to pay close attention — and weigh in, before the full legislature takes up a comprehensive regulatory bill this fall.

The state’s special Committee on Marijuana Legalization has been meeting twice weekly, tackling everything from the establishment of testing facilities to the extent of local control over weed sales. The committee recently earned props from the Boston Globe for the transparency of its proceedings, at least as compared with that of Massachusetts, which has been developing its pot regulations largely behind closed doors. (The public can listen to the Maine committee’s meetings live via http://legislature.maine.gov/.)

Just last week, in one of its biggest moves yet, the committee proposed taxing recreational weed sales at 20 percent, through a 10 percent excise tax and 10 percent sales tax. Five percent of those taxes would be funneled back to host communities, with the remainder going to the state.

That 20 percent number, while double what voters approved at the ballot box in November, is “much more commensurate with taxing across the United States,” said Rep. Teresa Pierce, a Falmouth Democrat who co-chairs the committee.

Indeed, a 20 percent tax would put Maine’s recreational marijuana tax rate below the one being considered in nearby Massachusetts — 25 percent — as well as the rates in Washington state (37 percent), Colorado (29 percent), Alaska (25 percent), and Oregon (25 percent), according to the Washington, DC-based Tax Foundation. Nevada, which just started selling recreational weed last month after voters approved it in 2016, is levying taxes of about 32 percent, leading the Tax Foundation to warn that it may face trouble “stamping out the black market.”

Pierce said taxes of 20 percent would account for the costs of Maine’s regulatory system while still being low enough to compete against illegal sales.

But some say the proposal, which far exceeds the 10 percent tax outlined in the 2016 referendum, is still “way too high.”

“It's gonna shoot the regulated and taxed market in the knees before asking it to run a race against the illicit market,” said Paul McCarrier, of Legalize Maine. He noted that regulated recreational pot in Maine will be competing against three markets: illicit cannabis that’s shipped here from out of state, illicit cannabis obtained through the “gray market” — local weed that’s grown legally but sold illegally — and medical marijuana, currently taxed at 5.5 percent. Mainers being a thrifty bunch, McCarrier said, they’re less apt to shell out the roughly $40 extra per ounce in taxes.

However, countered Democratic Portland Rep. Erik Jorgensen, a committee member: “If we want to cover our regulatory responsibilities while also providing enough additional revenue to do other things, we needed to go higher than what was originally included in the referendum.”

“It's always easier to start higher and come down if necessary than to start lower and go up,” Jorgensen said.

The committee plans to finalize the tax provision and number of others before voting on a full proposal later this summer. There will be a public hearing, likely in September, at which engaged citizens can speak for or against aspects of that law. The committee will make changes accordingly, and the full legislature is expected to convene a special session in October to vote on what will likely be a 30-50 page bill, according to Pierce.

If cost isn’t enough to sway you toward civic engagement, Jorgensen put the committee’s work in a national context, noting that while “we are appropriately not trying to predict what the federal government is going to do in the sphere of legalized cannabis, it seems logical that we will be in a stronger position if we have a robust regulatory structure in place.”

“This administration is, as everyone knows, a rolling crisis in all areas,” Jorgensen said, “and I think they have many bigger fish to fry than trying to nullify legalization laws that cover millions of Americans. That said, we want to make sure that our laws are clear, fair, and defensible.”

With Attorney General Jeff Sessions having adopted a Reefer Madness weed stance, we can’t argue with that.

 

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