The Marijuana-Industrial Complex

THE MARIJUANA-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX…. When Californians go to the polls on November 2nd to vote on Proposition 19 — officially known as the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act — they will not only be deciding whether to make marijuana legal in the most populous state in the union. They’ll also be determining the shape of a large and potentially powerful new American industry.

In his new article, “The Closing of the Marijuana Frontier,” John Gravois offers a vivid, authoritative portrait of the existing black market economy of cannabis production in Northern California, where prohibition has created a bizarre refuge of the old American agrarian ideal. Outlaw farmers in rural marijuana strongholds are trying to brand themselves as the new Napa Valley of pot, where day-tripping connoisseurs might one day sample organic, sustainably grown weed at a premium. In such a system, the profits and power from the state’s largest cash crop would remain in the hands of thousands of small producers — an outcome Thomas Jefferson might have cheered.

But that vision is already being undermined by political deals cut by some of Prop 19’s biggest backers: the prominent urban middlemen who increasingly control pot distribution in the existing medical marijuana retail market. Their efforts favor a much more consolidated and centralized industry, one that could set us on a path towards a world of marijuana lobbying groups, Super Bowl spots for “Marlboro Greens,” and a cannabis sector that cannot be easily controlled by the democratic process.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.