A sustainable cannabis economy means consumers making hard choices about where they spend their money.

Originally published in Lift News.
On April 20th, 2010 the BP oil spill began. It gushed oil into the Gulf of Mexico until July 12th. I was working at a sustainability centre in downtown Kingston, Ont. and was most fortunate to be surrounded by some of the best informed and wisest in the local movement. We were collectively losing our minds during this disaster, but amid our discussions came clarity. We realized first, that this planet would survive us, although we may not survive ourselves. Second, in order for us to survive ourselves we need to go back to living the way we did 100 years ago, specifically with regards to our consumer habits.

It is my opinion that if the cannabis movement is to fulfill its “higher purpose,” it must bring about an exact awareness of our impact on our environment through what and how we consume ALL commodities. It is disingenuous to purport to be an advocate for the small, independent, craft cannabis farmer, or to suggest boycotting the larger corporatized producers, if such consumer practices are not universal. This is not as easy for some as it is for others; there are barriers. When we think of food sovereignty the obstacles to the most sustainable consumer habits are poor accessibility, poor policy, flawed group-think and last but not least, the almighty dollar.

Accessibility

Not everyone can travel to the nearest farm and/or grow his or her own food or cannabis. There are certainly regions in Canada that are more conducive to micro-grows. These regions have hospitable climates, and a wealth of knowledgeable farmers. The majority of consumers will not have access to these providers. Urban farmers’ markets do provide access for food, and both Seattle and California have hosted cannabis markets for patients. It would be interesting and welcome to see more of this kind of activity in the future, but unlikely.

The prevailing social logic is that cannabis is something that should be restricted and especially children should be protected from. Tobacco and alcohol are typically not sold at the farmers’ market for this same reason. I say typically because there are places which do offer space for artisanal craft spirits. If any cannabis farmers’ markets are to happen it will likely be in these same regions to start.

Poor Policy

The government rewards corporations in the food production and distribution industry; the small farmer is therefore at a considerable disadvantage. Sadly such policies have derailed the sustainability of food production, and have taken us on a precarious trajectory. This does not have to be the case with cannabis, and it will be imperative for us to make sure policy makers and politicians create a fair market for cannabis cultivation and distribution. Ideally these policies will also consider environmental impact.

Group Think-Marketing

Consumers like brands and tend to have brand allegiance. This can work for and against marketing gurus and their clients. Everyone loved Heinz ketchup until most recently an incredible grassroots movement got behind French’s ketchup based solely on the fact they were using Canadian grown tomatoes after Heinz had closed the factory in a small farming community in Ontario.

Canadians stood up for the tomato farmers of Leamington and for the brand (French’s) that supported them. The solution to corporatized branding is educating; sometimes that includes shaming. Social media campaigns can make or break a brand and a business. The cannabis industry is going to be very susceptible to this, especially initially. There is considerable opportunity to create very high standards for quality and ethical practices, and this is the hope.

Price Point

How Price influences consumer habits is the big variable. The cost of post-prohibition cannabis is virtually an unknown at this time. The research is just not in yet. Even in the American states where such data could be evaluated, the evidence is thin. When applied to other commodities there really are no static numbers. We know that pricing does influence consumer habits, but prohibition skews the data significantly.

The past decade has seen a renewed interest in craft and local consumer habits. There are more than 2,700 craft breweries operating in the U.S., the highest total since the 1880s. This would be great news for my friends at the sustainability centre who were dedicated to many things including “going back 100 Years. If we are to return to the old ways to save ourselves and live sustainably, we are going to have to take a very hard look at ourselves and create the cannabis consumer conscious mind… ”the higher purpose”.