Alaska’s Weed Economy: Go Local

Steven Aufrecht’s blogweed 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. 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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Men as mechanical failures

crank2Curious things, words.

Recently, a colleague sent me a link to an Upworthy piece about the Attorney General of Kentucky announcing he would not defend KY’s ban on same-sex marriage. The title of the article described the AG, Jack Conway, as becoming so emotional during his speech that he “breaks down.”

Aside from the content of the speech, I became interested in the way that contemporary American society labels men who show certain kinds of emotion. In particular, why do we use a term that most commonly is used to describe mechanical failure to describe men who display emotions through crying? Cars, vacuum cleaners, snowmachines, boilers, printers, and robots break down. Why do we use the mechanical failure term to describe men who simply get emotional? Additionally, in most of the examples I give below, the men pictured do not display that much emotionality. See the Dustin Hoffman video for a typical emotional moment. Sure, they get tears in their eyes. They take a long moment before they speak. They look down. They perhaps wipe a tear from their faces. But aside from Tyrese Gibson, men in the examples below do not, in any sense, “break down,” characterized by sobbing, gnashing of teeth, falling over to the ground. Gibson, who is visiting the crash site where his friend was killed, does display much more grief and sadness than the other videos. In fact, Gibson displays so much emotion the article labels him as “falling apart.” This is a term used to indicate an extreme degree of mechanical failure when the machine literally disintegrates.

As a sociologist, I claim that contemporary American society has caged us into gender boxes. When men allow their eyes to glisten even for a moment, they cross over a line drawn in the sands of gender. Men who cry, especially publicly, are thought to be acting like women or little girls, and thus they are labeled broken men. Contemporary American society expects and demands men to be emotionless robots. When they don’t meet this expectation, we accuse them of mechanical failure. Of breaking down, and falling apart. Alternately, depending on the reason for crying, men who “break down” may be socially lauded. The blog, “The Art of Manliness,” lists times when it is acceptable for men to cry. Some of the blog appears to be satirical, but there are also threads of social reality woven throughout. And as you will see in the videos below, otherwise manly men who cry for a fallen comrade, or for religious reasons, or for Mom, are lauded as cultural heroes when they “break down.”

Here are some videos of emotional men with titles that describe them as “breaking down”:

Jack Conway, Kentucky’s Attorney General:

Dustin Hoffman, on his epiphany about women:

Steve Harvey cries about his mother:

Tyrese Gibson cries when he visits the scene of death of his friend: (note that this article claims he was not just “breaking down”, but also “falling apart.”

This blog, “The Art of Manliness,” has an interesting analysis of masculine crying through the ages: Make sure you check out the comments, often the most interesting element of blogs.

Thanks to for the graphic.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Flame Into Grace

Sarafina and Teresina Saracina, two sisters who died in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
Sarafina and Teresina Saracino

My singer-songwriter friend, BeJae Fleming, says that many songwriters believe that instead of writing songs, they channel them. I definitely feel that way with this song, “Flame Into Grace.”

The song is about two sisters, Sarafina and Teresina Saracino, who were killed in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. They were recent Italian immigrants, who came from Italy to New York City along with their parents and brother. When the fire broke out at their workplace, they, along with 144 other mostly women workers, discovered that bosses had locked the doors. Many workers clambered onto the fire escape, but it soon twisted from the heat, dislodged from the building, and tumbled to the sidewalk below. All 24 women who were on the fire escape were killed. Dozens of women were then faced with only two grim possibilities: they could stay inside and die of smoke and flame, or they could leap from the windows to die on the sidewalk below. Sarafina and Teresina are two of the women who chose the second way of dying.

A horrifying photograph of the 1911 Triangle Fire

Police and other observers watched helplessly as workers plunged to their deaths.

In my song, I imagine Sarafina and Teresina as leaping not to their deaths, but as leaping into eternal life. Strong Catholics, the two sisters would have embraced the vision of angels carrying them to Heaven once they leaped out of the window. Sarafina was named for the Great Seraphim, powerful angels who are arranged in the celestial hierarchy closest to God. In the Christian Bible, the Great Seraphim are described as having six fiery wings and eyes that flamed.

Among the list of saints in Catholic theology, St. Seraphina is described as a poor Italian girl who died at the age of 15 after having received a vision. Sick and mostly paralyzed due to a succession of childhood diseases, Seraphina made clothes for people even poorer than she was. True to Catholic Italian naming traditions, it seems entirely logical to me that Sarafina Saracina–Teresina’s sister–was named to honor the saint and in awe of the Great Seraphim.

In their final moments, did Sarafina and her sister realize the terrible and tragic irony of Sarafina’s name? First, that she was named for a saint who died young. Second, that her saint made clothes for poor people, while Sarafina herself made clothes for middle class people and died doing it. But perhaps the most awful, horrifying irony is that she was named for angels whose very character was fire. Ultimately, however, this song is about faith and hope. The two sisters leapt not into the chasm of death, but into the arms of angels.

You can listen to my song and see some photographs from the time here:

You can find the lyrics and tabs to “Flame Into Grace” here:

You can find more about the Triangle Fire and the labor movement that it spawned by googling it and by following some of these links:

PBS program


East Harlem Preservation

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Sophie Sergie: Never Forget

sophie sergieIncidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault at University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) have to be viewed within our particular context. Alaska has the highest per capita rate of domestic violence in America. Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault per capita in the nation. Fairbanks is ranked as the third most dangerous city for women in America. Our university has just spent what must be an exorbitant fee to defend sexual harassment as free speech. The university attempted to completely shut down the Women’s Center two years ago, and although community resistance stopped a complete shut-down, now the university is quietly planning again to downsize staff and space. Last week, a young woman sponsored a Consent is Sexy table at several venues on campus. She reports that when she set up the table at one of the residence halls, several men made rape jokes.

As upsetting as these incidents and facts are, another event at UAF provides a horrifying lens through which sexual harassment and other incidents of sexual violence at our university must be understood. In 1993, a young woman was raped and murdered at UAF, and her killer is still at large. Her name was Sophie Sergie. Her body was discovered in a shower in the same dorm where the men made rape jokes last week.

The crime is still unsolved. Read about Sophie’s murder case here:

Never forget Sophie Sergie. Never stop the work of dismantling patriarchy. Don’t turn your heads away from the horror, but instead, speak up and speak out.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Minions of Patriarchy

Minions of Patriarchy

adapted from Suzy Exposito, aka Suzy X. See more of her rad fem cartoons, including the original version of the one above, here:

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Patriarchy Wins at UAF

Keep-Calm-and-Subvert-PatriarchyThe Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), claimed victory today in the patriarchal war against women being waged at the local level at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Read the press release here:

I am intrigued by FIRE’s claim that they helped to bring about the victory. I had suspected for several weeks that they had become involved in the complaint and appeal process, and wonder how much influence they had over the university’s decision.

On the bright side, many people have expressed their outrage against the university’s decision to support sexism. Several women students have courageously stepped forward to discuss possible resistance strategies. They are the real freedom fighters.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments