If these small growers survive, should there still be a model for corporate cannabis anyway?
I’m not guaranteeing that these small-scale farmers will survive. There’s work to do. We need to continue to advocate on their behalf. Consumers need to recognize the costs and benefits of the artisanal model versus the corporate model. Politicians need to think about what type of industry they want to see and what kind of agricultural community they can promote. I don’t think it’s a given. That was my motivation for writing this book. We need to make that decision and take steps to promote it.
Is there still a role for big marijuana players? No doubt they will occupy a certain space. What the large producers can bring to the table is a sort of inexpensive, generic marijuana that many consumers might still find attractive. If we as a society are recognizing that marijuana has medical, therapeutic, and spiritual benefits, then I think there’s value in being able to provide marijuana products at a cost that’s affordable for everyone. If you think about a really large warehouse grow or a few thousand acres growing pound after pound of generic marijuana, they’ll flood the market. That might not be such a bad thing for some consumers. The key is to balance that with some protections for family farmers, and policies that allow artisanal producers to thrive alongside that [corporate] model.
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So the idea is that with buying power or legislative power, there’s still room to craft what this industry could allow in terms of small vs. large farms?
We bemoan the state of agriculture in the U.S., which could be hard to change [since] we have interests that are already entrenched. We recognize that we’re ushering in a new billion dollar industry, and it’s a unique opportunity to craft and form the type of industry and agricultural community that we really want — an agricultural community that really reflects our values.
What led you to prefer the small farmer model?
I think you tend to see more diverse consumer choices in the marketplace. If you have 50,000 farms vetting marijuana, you’re going to see more products there than if you have one marijuana farm growing one generic strain on a 10-acre farm. So I think from a consumer perspective, you get more choice if you allow more producers. I think you also get — in many cases, as suggested by the artisanal movement in other industries like the craft beer market — a higher quality product. The goal is not to provide the cheapest possible marijuana, which opens up possibilities to create exciting new strains and produce a new product that’s high quality; that’s connoisseur quality. You’re catering to a more sophisticated consumer who’s interested in diversity of choice that’s created by an artisanal market.
I think also the family farming model has additional benefits and the potential to use more sustainable farming methods. Of course, that’s not really a given — it really depends on the marijuana farming community working together to set up environmental regulations that make sense for both the regulated and their regulators. But I think in the smaller scale family farming model, there’s the opportunity to make a product that doesn’t rely as heavily on pesticides, and doesn’t take as much of a ‘scorched earth’ approach as larger scale [farming] methods.