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12.01.10

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Cheerleaders for Cannabis

By Kylie Mendonca


Perhaps nothing signals the movement of marijuana from contraband toward commonplace more clearly than the newly formed Washington, D.C.—based lobbying group, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). Yes, even the marijuana "industry" has a lobbying group now. Never mind that marijuana is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government; the group of mostly West Coast and Colorado marijuana representatives is heading to Congress to change just that.

Aaron Smith—Santa Rosa native and onetime Libertarian candidate for the 7th District Assembly—is the executive director of the NCIA. He says the group represents a wide range of marijuana subcultures, but they have at least one common goal: to "end marijuana prohibition."

"Ultimately," Smith says, "we want to see the cannabis industry treated no different than any other industry."

The NCIA unabashedly blurs the line between medical and recreational marijuana, making room for both medical marijuana providers and those who seek to make a profit from the plant on their board, currently numbering 23 directors. While their clear ultimate goal is for-profit legalization, the group also sees a future when working conditions are better for trimmers and Humboldt weed gets the same respect as Napa wine.

"Marijuana prohibition is on the way out," Smith says. "This is a way to make sure the industry flourishes." The question arises: what industry?

In theory, medical marijuana is the only quasi-legal branch of marijuana production in California, and, by law, it's a mostly nonprofit effort. But this is where 15 years in a fugue state have landed the movement: many people are making money hand over fist in this arrangement. Both California and Colorado voters are close to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, and while even the deepest red states are voting in favor of decriminalizing medical marijuana, the federal government hasn't budged on its stance.

A lobbying group could push to have marijuana reclassified as a schedule 2 drug—like most prescriptions—to keep the Feds out of states' medicine cabinets, but, again, the medical industry is mostly not-for-profit. Who's going to fund that lobbying group?

And while the specter of Monsanto-brand cannabis hovers about the legalization debate, Smith makes several connections to the marijuana industry and the alcohol industry, where corporate marijuana plays the part of mega-brewers like Budweiser and smaller growers are represented by microbreweries. With the help of the NCIA, the small growers may have support in Washington. Should Washington ever come around, that is.


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