With the upcoming vote in November of Proposition 64 in California, cannabis enthusiasts from all corners of the movement need to come together. The upcoming State of Marijuana event later in September plans to do just that, with featured speakers encompassing every niche of our community. Of them, Swami Chaitayna is a long-time cultivator, self-proclaimed old-school hippie, and powerful believer in the romanticism of the history of cannabis. Swami shared his views with us about California, cannabis, and capitalism.
Swami on Prop 64
You’re coming at cannabis legalization from the standpoint of someone who’s been a longtime activist and also huge into organic growing, and you really have an insight into the small growers in California. What do you think of this upcoming legislation? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? What issues do you have with it?
Well I put out kind of a half-hearted support of Prop 64. The reason I support the Prop 64 is that it’s just time to get this legal. Stop putting people in jail for using or growing medicine which is every day being found to have more uses for more different people for more different diseases. People going to jail for growing a healing plant seems to be about the most perverse thing any government could do to its citizens. So that has to change. For that reason alone, I think we should get this.
What I don’t like about Prop 64 primarily is the tax structure. It hits both the retail end and the producer and the farmers. And you know, in AUMA is a tax of $9.25 per ounce of flower and $2.75 for leaf paid for by the farmers. Now I’m not saying the farmer doesn’t need to pay a little bit of excise tax himself but if you have a fixed tax on a market product that is fluctuating up and down in market price it seems very unfair to have a fixed tax rate and it’s also a pretty exorbitant tax when you come right down to it.
On the retail end they throw on a 15% tax, plus your regular sales tax from the state and the county and the city on top as well, so we’re looking at a 25% on the retail purchaser. But at some point that tax from the farmer will likely be passed on to the purchaser as well.
So it seems like there’s a lot of government agencies that are just looking to balance their books on the backs of the cannabis growers and the cannabis users so it seems to me that it’s not fair.
The possibilities remain positive
So the fine print isn’t what we would like, but you still support AUMA for the big picture?
You see the thing about those of us that grow cannabis is, and those of us involved in (actually we have to call it a cannabis movement), for the last umpty-ump years is that we believe in this plant as a sacred gift, as something that nature has provided us that has been a medicine that people have gone to for at least 10,000 years.
Thirty years of government research have yet to find any really negative qualities about it. If they had spent that 30 year’s time to find the positive qualities, we’d really be a step ahead. This is something that is a sacred medicine to have it treated as a criminal enterprise and people thrown in jail for the most minor offense I think it’s cruel and unusual punishment and I should stop on that line. I want to go on about the positive aspects of what it is but we’re faced with all this regulation that we’ve never had before so anyway I’m moderately for the AUMA.
Because I think it needs to be legalized we have to stop putting people in jail I just hope that the tax burden gets more equitable and shared instead of just putting it all on the farmer and the consumer. And the thing is that ‘how about all the middlemen’? They’re going to make all the money.
Is the DEA decision hurting the movement?
The idiocy of the DEA decision? Rallying cry?
Well let’s look at that in two ways. From the point of view of the medical establishment of the bureaucracy, they have certain standards and procedures that you have to go through in order to certify what your product is as a medicine and it requires all common scientific research and double blind studies, excetera excetera. Well that’s legitimate when you’re dealing with a standard medicine produced in some factory. And it’s a brand new medicine at that no one’s ever heard about so they want to see if it’s going to kill people or if it’s going to heal people.
But in terms of cannabis we have at least 10,000 years of outpatient clinic work and we’ve also got the fact that there has never yet been a documented instance of cannabis death through cannabis overdose. There’s never been one. People die from an overdose of peanut butter, they die from an overdose of aspirin. Over a hundred thousand people have died from an overdose of prescription medicine, not a single person has died from excess cannabis.
The fact of the matter is that people have died because they have not been able to get cannabis. Those are the deaths attributable to cannabis: not from the overuse but from the denial by the government of the single best medicine for post traumatic stress, for concussion, for epileptics, for rheumatoid arthritis and it goes on and on and on. The best medicine over the last 10,000 years and more and more documented by anectdotal evidence that this is the best medicine.
But you see, the DEA does not accept anecdotal evidence. Of course, this is a catch-22. They won’t buy or let you use any cannabis in any research institute or any university that gets federal funding. So how could they possibly document effective medical use if they can’t legally get a hold of it to use for medical experimentation?
A silver lining?
So were there any positives?
One positive thing about this DEA announcement was that they WILL allow certain universities and institutions access to cannabis to start experimentation but that’s still only a half-measure.
Until science takes into account specific strains and the exact strain & terpene profile they’re never going to have the demonstrable scientific experiment which is going to prove anything. So the scientists are, for the moment, completely ignorant and completely unaware of how specific strains of cannabis are different based on their individual profile.
Hopefully now, we will move to that, because within the movement we are all about that. The most important thing for cannabis sales, even on a recreational basis is, in fact, the terpenes. People buy cannabis on the basis of how it smells, and so to ignore that in your medical experimentation actually defeats the medical experiment right at the beginning.
But also at this point it’s beginning to be criminal, because people die because they can’t get cannabis people have to move from one state to another because they can’t get cannabis their children with epilepsy go from tens of seizures a day to one a week or once a month because of cannabis and the government won’t let them use it. So this to me actually is a criminal act on the part of the government.
Will cannabis lose out to big business?
Because of the prohibitive costs of getting into the industry, versus the legal ramifications for being outside of it, do you think the innovation that we’ve seen from growers over the last few decades will be part of a bygone era as cultivation becomes more mainstream and homogenized?
Who really knows how it’s going to play out over the next five to 10 years? Standard pattern economic history in the capitalist world, especially in this country, is that some industry starts up and there’s a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand small time entrepreneurs that are doing that.
Then, one by one, some of them get successful, buy out the others or put them out of business, and eventually you get down to three or four main petroleum companies, or automotive companies, or beer companies, or appliance companies, or what have you. Along the way all these other people have tried out and done these inventions and innovations and then they get absorbed by the big guys.
Swami says everyone will have a place
So what is your ideal view of cannabis legalization?
First off, every individual has to have the right to grow their own medicine, just like they have to have the right to grow their own food. But of course, the caveat is not to interfere with your neighbors. On the other hand, at the next level what we’re looking at is a model like maybe microbreweries with beer, or the small wine industry, where you have a certain limited number of participants who are top shelf.
I don’t know what the actual number would be or the square footage, up to a half an acre or something, and that’s what qualifies as a small artisanal grower and that’s going to be a high-end market. Cannabis at this level is a whole different creature and is going to give you a whole different experience.
So, I see that there’s going to be a very top level, a mid-level, a mass level, and there’s going to be people with vape pens and funky weed… But the whole market is like the market of everything. There’s going to be people that always buy the cheapest car that they can find and there’s people that buy a car for $200,000. It’s all the same market. Once it’s really opened up to the public, that’s what it’s going to be.
The State of Marijuana
Swami Chaitayna is on the Evolution of Pot panel at the State of Marijuana event on the Queen Mary, Long Beach, CA, this September 26th – 27th.
Check out the State of Marijuana for more information about the event and to view their full agenda and speaker list. Want the full networking experience? Then book a room on the Queen Mary. Click here for full details.