Steven Aufrecht’s blog compares the emerging Alaska cannabis rush with the old Alaska gold rushes. I think he’s got a point. Aufrecht points out that only a few got very rich from gold. Many people got a little something from selling goods and services to the prospectors (e.g. prostitutes, laundresses, cooks, outfitters, railroad industry, steamboat companies), But most of the early prospectors went home empty-handed, poorer by far than when they set out. And most of the money flowed out of Alaska into non-Alaskan hands.
Will this happen again if Alaska legalizes marijuana? I think Aufrecht is right when he notes that if Alaska legalizes marijuana in August, 2014, that we will have the initial rush of pot entrepreneurs. Already there is at least one person in Fairbanks who is preparing to retail marijuana, and Aufrecht’s blog has a snapshot of an ad in an Anchorage paper for a 2-day workshop on growing and selling legal marijuana. Aufrecht notes that the people offering the workshop seem to be located in Washington state, and also points out that there are cheaper workshops Outside. He describes that there are videos for purchase (again, Outside) for those folks who want to cash in on the legal trade. There are also many how-to grow books for sale online. Amazon.com offers ten different books (I’d go with the one by Tommy Chong), plus lights and other infrastructural components for small-scale grow ops. But nearly all of these initial opportunities for entrepreneurs will flow the money Outside.
How can we keep the money here at home? I have several ideas.
First, if AK legalizes weed, I expect many people will grow their own. If Alaska follows the model of other states, adults would be able to maintain up to six full-size plants without needing to obtain any kind of permit. Alaskans celebrate our DIY culture, reveling in our rugged hand-built cabins, cutting and hauling our own wood, harvesting our own meat and fish, schooling our children at home. I think a substantial number of marijuana users will want to expand their DIY chores to include DIY pot, thus keeping significant amounts of money here in Alaska.
I offered the DIY idea to a couple of black market distributor friends of mine (who will remain nameless, as their jobs are currently illegal), arguing that if the bill passes, their jobs will be at risk. Neither of them are worried. One claimed that there will always be a specialty market, and that the seeds for specialty crops will not be available to DIY growers. This person noted that good quality black market marijuana no longer is filled with seeds, like back in the day, because transportation costs are so high. (Full disclosure necessary here: I do not partake, so cannot offer empirical evidence to confirm or disconfirm his claim.) This means, according to my friend, that, come August, DIYers will not have seeds available that will yield high quality pot. Further, he claims (and hopes) that the specialty import market will continue, and that his job is secure for the foreseeable future.
My other friend claims that Alaskans do not have the time, space, or expertise necessary to successfully DIY. Further, this friend predicts that marijuana will soon be Monsantonized. Ze (non-sexist, generic second person pronoun) predicts Monsantonized researchers are already working on developing seedless varieties. This, of course, would mean that personal growers would have to purchase specialty seeds annually, or obtain clones from their growing plants. According to the Anahita Theory of Capitalism is Just Like Water, because capitalism will flow into every available nook and cranny, it won’t be long before Monsantonized researchers will develop clone-proof marijuana varieties. I wouldn’t smoke that stuff, though. Would you? Mama don’t allow no gene-messing around here.
There are, of course, problems involved in growing cannabis outdoors. Summers are short here in Alaska. Marijuana is a heat-loving plant, and withers rapidly during cold spells. Snow is not unheard of in July, and frost often arrives the third week of August. Marijuana needs lots of water, and while some Interior Alaska summers are wet and cool, others are bone dry through July. Additionally, moose will eat anything that grows. The last thing we need is stoned moose wandering on our roads. Theft of mature plants growing outdoors is also likely to be a problem, and although growers would be able to complain to the troopers and not fear arrest, our local cops are not likely to have the time or resources to be able to track down pot thieves. Illegal grow-ops protect against theft through the use of constant armed surveillance (including by satellite video, I’m told) and boobie traps. Legal DIYers could always install 10’ high fences with razor wire on the top, but surely this would degrade adjourning property values. I would hate to see legal DIY outdoor grow-ops follow these models to protect against theft. So outdoor DIY grows may be necessarily limited here in Interior Alaska.
Another alternative is to DIY grow plants indoors. There are many benefits to growing indoors, most of which address the problems listed above. But indoor grow operations suck up a lot of fuel, electricity, and water. Many people I know live in dry cabins, and the thought of hauling and storing an additional five gallons of water each week is not appealing. Electricity is already costly, so the lights needed to grow indoors would send the power bill skyrocketing. Additionally, our homes are very small here, and few people I know have room for bookshelves, much less room to grow pot. Now that I think about it, a benefit might accrue to local construction companies. If voters legalize marijuana in Alaska, perhaps we might see a boom for the small construction companies if DIYers hire a carpenter crew to build an add-on grow room. Solar power installers might note a boom, if people choose to power their grow-ops in a more environmentally sustainable way. Local peat and soil companies will definitely see a boom as these resources need to be replenished often when growing pot indoors. Or so I’m told. But really—who has the space, the time, the resources, and the expertise to run their own indoor DIY grow-op?
I propose that Alaskans consider a cooperative model for obtaining legal marijuana. If the marijuana legalization bill passes, pot legalization efforts should next turn to legalizing large-scale co-op growing. The cooperative model would be another type of community-supported agriculture (CSA) so that people would buy a share in a local co-op farm. So that on Thursdays, when you pick up your share of veggies at the CSA drop, you get your market share of marijuana at the same time.
There are many benefits to the co-op model. First, growing and distributing pot locally this way would make money flow right into Alaskan hands. Second, the co-op model would expand local employment opportunities, and expand the number of people interested in farming in Alaska. Most CSA and other co-op farmers already have the infrastructure to grow and transport marijuana. The greenhouses, fields, lights, tractors, tillers, hoes, trucks, etc. that farmers use to grow tomatoes and other vegetables are the same that are used to grow cannabis. Natural dry methods, similar to the open-air sheds used to dry fish here in Alaska could easily be constructed on farms, and would provide job opportunities for local carpenters. We would still have the 10’ fence with razor wire problem, but at least these would be localized only to farms, with the additional benefit of a boom for local fence contractors. Fairbanks out-burbs, such as Ester, Cripple Creek, Goldstream, Moose Mountain all offer prime space for outdoor pot co-ops. Fox, of course, has legendary water that might make Fox legendary as a pot-growing paradise. No pot growing in North Pole, of course, unless you don’t mind smoking weed grown with toxic water.
As a Beyond Esteroid (defined as a person who lives south of Ester and holds ideological views even more radical than most people who live in Ester Proper), I have a brilliant idea. I propose that we form an Ester-based marijuana grow-op that would keep nearly every dollar local. Specifically, my idea is to pool funds to form a co-operative to transform the rapidly decaying Ester Gold Camp into an all-in-one grow-op, retail outlet, and co-op user resort. We could purchase most of our resources locally, including water, peat, soil, lumber, and construction labor. We would hire locals, who would spend their money locally, and the Ester economy would boom.
Think about the possibilities, people! We could transform the Malemute bar into a secure indoor grow-op, and distribute the marijuana shares at the old general store. Perhaps the co-op could offer tourist shares, so that travelers could buy a short-term share in the co-op. Co-op based pot tourism would restore Ester to its rightful place as a tourists’ paradise. The co-op could restore the campground and hotel as places for pot tourists to stay, thus offering year-round tourism possibilities. The hotel restaurant would have to be reopened, and could sell specialty food to meet the discerning pot tourists’ tastes. Of course we would have to reopen the Aurorium, so that tourists and locals alike could be entertained by the pretty lights during their buzz-time. Ester has a plethora of artists and creative people who, I am sure, would have other ideas for how to turn local talent and resources into goods that could be sold at the co-op, e.g. local carvers and wood-turners could create pipes from locally-gathered materials. Blacksmiths could make roach clips. Spinners and quilters could make cool storage pouches. Maybe we could even make rolling papers from local birch bark.
There are other economic opportunities that Interior Alaska entrepreneurs could take advantage of that would keep the $$ local. The School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) could offer courses on marijuana cultivation, including growing for the specialty market. Think of other departments who would benefit by offering classes for DIY or professional pot growers: business and marketing; accounting; hydrology; mechanical engineering.
Two final thoughts… First, remember all of those seeds you threw away, back in the day, because even though they couldn’t be smoked, they could land you in prison? You might want to be saving your seeds now, just in case my corporate conspiracy-minded buddy’s predictions come true. Second… You say you don’t know how to save seeds? The Ester Library runs Growing Ester’s Biodiversity (GEB) seed-saving workshops throughout the year. They could easily incorporate a weed seed-saving workshop into the GEB program, charging participants top dollar ($10 for members, $25 for non-members). Here’s a third final thought. Even the University of Alaska Fairbanks could benefit. The School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, Cooperative Extension, marketing and account departments, and other units would surely attract students eager to learn how to grow and market marijuana. More students means more tuition dollars. More tuition dollars means the university could invest more into its faculty, students, and staff (I’m not counting administrators, ad they already earn enough money.) Those faculty, staff, and students will be spending their money at home, in Alaska. Perhaps even at the Ester Gold Camp Co-Op Grow-Op 😉
If Alaska legalizes marijuana, let’s work to keep the profits local and share the wealth through co-operative models. We already spend too much money Outside. We already suffer from brain drain as our youth move south for jobs and education. Let’s invest in our local farmers, our local stores and other small businesses, our local labor pool, our local library programming, and our state university system. If we are strategic, we can use the legalization of cannabis in Alaska to restore our local economy.