Who's Pie? Our Pie! We Own the Bakery!
by Zvi Baranoff
We made a practical political decision in the 1970's to develop the "Soft Strategy" and focus on a process of long term marijuana reform rather than an overall critique of Capitalism and Stateism. (For history buffs, note The Soft Strategy: A Yippie Manifesto For the 80's published in Yipster Times, March 1978.) By doing so, we intended to effect real change that improves the lives of millions, within the constraints of the system as it is. The broader social analysis moved to the back burner. The "temporary" alliances that developed span anarcho-communists and crypto-capitalists and all that falls in between, resulting in a blurring of ideology. The continued criminalization assured a murkiness of finances and the fuzzing of individual and collective resposibilities and accomplishments. The strategy, all told, has nonetheless resulted in long term measurable success.
We brought forth the concept of "Medical Marijuana" and developed the underground networks to supply the needs of often desperate patients while politicians were left to find their safe position. Support for medical marijuana, at least in the abstract, is now hovering around 90%, with medical marijuana legal in some form or another in most of the country. We effectively explained the distinction between hemp and marijuana, and have created the groundwork for an American hemp industry even with the support of a Republican dominated Congress. And the step by step process of decriminalization and legalization on the local and state level continues to move forward. We built broad and winning coalitions, bringing full cannabis legalization from a tiny minority position to a clearly majority backed position.
Up from the underground, the legal marijuana business is here to stay. The long term nature and structure of this newly legal business is still to be seen. I have heard much grumbling over the decades that legalization will lead to corporations like Marlboro and Budwieser controlling the marijuana business. The trend, however, may be toward the more subtle but equally corporate Starbucks and Whole Foods model, and the corporate "non-profit" model such as Habitat for Humanity and Goodwill Industries. (Gasp!) We live within a capitalist economic system and we can expect corporate organizations to dominate the emerging industry.
There are, however, other economic models that we can choose from and if we take the decisive steps now, we can help shape not only our industry but the entire economic direction of this nation for decades to come. Cooperative economic enterprises have great promise in general but may be particularly adaptable to the cannabis industry because of the counterculture roots. The examples of the Madragon model in Spain is particularly appealing but closer to home we have worker owned businesses like Winco, financial options like credit unions, consumer Food coops and energy cooperatives. Worker owned dispensaries, farmers' cooperatives, co-op processing facilities as well as consumer cooperatives are the key to maximizing the positive effect of the ongoing trending toward full legalization for both marijuana and hemp.
We are at a stage where the cannabis industry seems chock full of folks operating from self-interest with a "got mine" attitude and Green Rushers out for a quick buck. This may be understandable, but does not serve the interests of the movement in general. Indeed, we are potentially at a point of increased diversion between the interests of the movement and the industry. Folks that are now reaping healthy economic returns from legal cannabis need to fully understand that their continued security relies on the ongoing efforts of activists to defend and expand cannabis freedoms. The industry can help by preferential hiring for activists and ex-prisoners and by contributing a percentage of all income to organizations working on expanding cannabis rights. Segments of the industry that do not invest in the community risk losing the ongoing support of the community. These social concerns define a zone where the cooperative wing of the industry no doubt can take the lead.
Marijuana has deep roots in cooperative tendencies. Think back to the first joint you ever shared, passing from hand to hand in a circle down to the tinniest of roaches. Sharing is at the very core of our being. Legalization is not about the rise of a new capitalist strata. We define the future of cannabis by our actions. Cannabis Cooperativists, heed the call. Invest and work toward a cooperative cannabis future.
We must hang together or we risk being hung separately - with the hempen rope of our own making.