About ten years ago I was having a heated and on-going debate with a friend about the economy, environment and how on earth we were going to save the planet. We argued about this for months going back and forth about consumption, the necessity to grow the economy, human nature, frugality, ethics, greed, social ills…all the good stuff left wingers argue with their right wing colleagues about. At the time I kept going back to the recycling economy and how we could create a global industry based on recycling rather than extraction. Let’s just re-cycle what we already have rather than producing more from our natural and limited resources. The destruction of the environment was something I could not bear.
Trees in particular were my thing from a very early age. I had worked as a Junior Forest Ranger in my 17th year for the Ministry of Natural Resources. We were camped in an incredibly pristine and romantic lodge outside of Chapleau, called Five Mile Lake. My dream of working in the wild and helping to preserve its’ natural beauty was replaced with the horror of my first exposure to clear cuts and the degradation of our planet. Collecting pine cones and tree planting in the barren wastelands of de-forestation was not my idea of what I thought my summer was going to be, nor my romantic vision of the wilds of Northern Ontario. I had just finished reading Lord of the Rings for Grade 11 advanced English and the scenery was reminiscent of my own vision of Mordar. My mind could not comprehend the sheer destruction and the ugliness of clear cutting. Where did the animals go? Why did they have to take everything? It was a psychologically brutal experience but it also planted a seed in my own soul which I am thankful for.
In 2009 the Conservative government decided it was a good idea to close the prison farms. I was living in Kingston at the time and working at a sustainability centre. There was a very organized and passionate campaign spear-headed by the National Farmers’ Union to stop this from happening. There were information sessions, sign-ups, fund-raisers, even Margaret Atwood got involved. This campaign spoke to me as someone who believed strongly in the importance of preserving good farmland as there was much conjecture that the lands the farms were on, particularly the waterfront acreage at the Kingston Penitentiary were to be developed. One of the speakers was Justin Piche, who is now a Professor at the University of Ottawa. Piche spoke of the Prison Industrial Complex and what was really going on in the judicial system aswell as the prison system. My jaw was on the floor the entire length of his presentation. He spoke of the upcoming crime bill which would impose mandatory minimum sentences and the hallmark of the emergence of big private prisons; a policy which Bill Clinton now admits as “one huge mistake.” The rate of incarceration in the United States is the highest in the world and is also disproportionately populated by young black men. There was much more to this than just the closure of a farm. The omnibus crime bill and its’ predecessors were targeting among others cannabis cultivators. The mandatory minimum sentence for six plants would be six months in prison. It was pretty ridiculous, but the Harper had a certain kind of hate for cannabis based on his evangelical religion which put cannabis at the forefront of the end times. Just like Nixon, this tough on drug stance worked well for the base and took aim at the low lying fruit of criminality. The prisons would be easily filled and the wheels of the prison industrial complex would begin to turn at a quicker rotation. It was another version of Mordar.
Fast Forward Six Years
Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Vermont and Hawaii have legalized adult-use cannabis. Canada is just around the corner of being the first G7 nation to introduce federal legislation. The world will follow. Are we creating an industry that could be positive for the environment? Is it possible this new paradigm is the economic force that could replace the negative forces of our consumer habits and one that rather than leaving a carbon imprint actually gives back to the health of the planet? Is this the how we could save the planet? It remains to be seen. What we do know for sure is that it will definitely change the planet in a very positive way if it is done properly.
The environment is not the first thing one thinks about when we talk about cannabis. It should be. Cannabis cultivation in the near future will impact our environment immeasurably. Covert cultivation practices are a direct result of prohibition and now that this is ending in Canada, various states and worldwide we are obligated to embrace not just more practical models, but also more ethical models. Ultimately it will be the consumer who decides if given the choices they deserve and it is imperative the choices are based on evidence and science. Ethical consumer practise impacts not only the environment but also our communities. My writing intends to start important conversations around the ethics of cannabis consumer practices, cannabis cultivation and the potentially positive impacts which are on their way. I have hope.