Prohibition After Legalization

Prohibition After Legalization

Regulations related to cannabis legalization in California can intersect with existing social structures in a variety of ways. Michael Polson, one of our researchers, and Margiana Petersen-Rockney, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, are now researching an example of such an intersection in Siskiyou County, California.

Polson and Petersen-Rockney are examining the local government’s role in determining the regulatory terms of cannabis cultivation, with Siskiyou County as their case study. Using ethnographic research methods, they found that punitive attitudes toward cannabis regulation tend to mark cannabis cultivators as criminals, rather than farmers. This law enforcement-led approach to regulation can make some cultivators more legally vulnerable than others. Though punitive measures may seem reasonable to local governments, such methods may actually make it harder to bring cultivators into the legal market and ultimately encourage criminal activity. According to Polson in an interview, “Enforcement first approaches to cannabis cultivation hinder regulation and stigmatize producers”. When law-enforcement takes over regulation of cannabis, it can be as if cannabis was not legal at all. Polson describes this as “a back door way of reinstituting prohibition”.

In Siskiyou County, the recent surge in cannabis farming is generally associated with the in-migrant community of Hmong-Americans. Hmong farmers have become a symbol of the “problematic” cannabis grows in the area. Polson and Petersen-Rockney propose that this view may be a symptom of the anxiety many residents feel about the change in their landscape, culture and economy to one that includes cannabis. This project asks how can local policies determine if cultivators of this newly legal crop are treated like criminals or farmers? If cannabis were to be treated as any other legal crop, rather than an illicit substance, there would be greater opportunity to create a functional regulatory system.

This paper will be published soon in California Agriculture.

By Leah Jones | July 30, 2019.