CAMP Shows that Cannabis Prohibition is Still King in California

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Nick Johnson, a historian and editor based in Fort Collins, Colorado. His book Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West (2017) is a history of cannabis agriculture that explores the environmental and social dynamics of the nation’s most controversial crop. He also blogs (and occasionally podcasts!) about all things cannabis on his website, Hempirical Evidence.

CAMP 1988
Law Enforcement Officers working with CAMP hold the California state flag and pose with pickup trucks filled with confiscated cannabis plants in 1988. Source: 1988 CAMP Final Report.

California fully legalized cannabis in 2016, but many people might not realize that the state and federal agencies are still fighting a guerrilla war against it. The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), started in 1983 by Golden State Republican governor George Deukmejian,  brings together local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in annual drives targeting cannabis farms across the state. The program—which still operates today—has amounted to one of the largest law enforcement task forces in American history. In 2020, despite raging wildfires and a pandemic, CAMP managed to destroy more than 1.1 million illegal cannabis plants in twenty-nine different counties.

Now, with marijuana legal in California (and in many other places), the logical question becomes: “why is CAMP still a thing, and is it necessary?” To answer these questions, we need to understand the history of CAMP, how its operations have changed over the years, and why illegal marijuana cultivation persists today.

Ambitious Goals

At its start, some thirteen years before California legalized medical cannabis, CAMP’s goal was nothing less than the total annihilation of marijuana in the Golden State. During its first decade of action, officers loaded into planes and helicopters, donned full combat gear, and braved growers’ booby traps and shotguns to pull up millions of plants and make dozens, or in some years hundreds, of arrests. The program grew steadily over the years as more California counties joined; by 1991, CAMP operations accounted for 56 percent of marijuana eradicated in the state.

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A Century of Drug Use – AHA2021 Panel Presentation on 4/20

The annual meeting of the American Historical Association, to be held in Seattle, was called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of this year’s replacement online virtual AHA2021 conference, four drug historians, including Points Contributing Editor Bob Beach, will be presenting their research about drug users in modern history on Tuesday, April 20, at 1:00PM EST. The panel is titled, “A Century of American Drug Use: Psychoactive Drugs Among Native Americans, Hippies, and the Working Poor.”

Virtual AHA Panel

The online panel is free to attend, but advanced registration is required. Please click this link to register and you’ll receive instant confirmation.

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Review: “Commodifying Cannabis: A Cultural History of a Complex Plant in the Atlantic World”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. 

Borougerdi book Commodifying Cannabis
Cover of Commodifying Cannabis

I’ve been reading about pot since before my formal history training. I’ve always been fascinated by the inclusion of the standard story about the “long history” of cannabis that seemed to appear in the introduction to just about every book or article on the subject. As a teenager/young adult first experimenting with cannabis after a childhood of “Just Say No” sobriety, I was somehow comforted to know that I could tap into the wonders of a cannabis high in the same way that many ancient societies had in India, China, or the Middle East.

I have since learned a lot more about the plant, and it is clear that my assumptions had been based on problematic conceptions of “other” cultures. The growing historical literature about intoxicants has further challenged my formerly overly simplistic understandings about how societies manage drug use and about how drug policies and public opinion interact to shape beliefs about drugs. I’ve been struck, though, that the connection between ancient uses of cannabis and our more recent social and cultural contexts have often been missing from these analyses. Such a long-term historical perspective could help us better understand the dynamic flows of drug knowledge across time and place.

Bradley J. Borougerdi’s 2018 book Commodifying Cannabis seeks to make these types of connections. Borougerdi focuses on the Anglo-American Atlantic World and describes the plant as a “triple-purpose” cultural commodity. He builds on previous work by scholars like Isaac Campos who has previously investigated how re-interpretations of Spanish and indigenous knowledge influenced the circulation of information about cannabis in Mexico. Borougerdi, here, examines how orientalist assumptions shaped knowledge about the plant as it moved through the Anglo-American world. He argues that the different meanings of cannabis—attached to its different modes of use—dictated the trajectory of cannabis commodification in the early modern period, the prohibition of cannabis in the nineteenth century, and the recent re-commodification of cannabis.

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Coming Soon: Cannabis Clinical Outcomes Research Conference (CCORC) 2021

April 8th – 9th, 2021 | VirtualLearn, share, and advance medical marijuana research Hosted by the Consortium for Medical Marijuana Clinical Outcomes Research, we welcome your participation and attendance at the inaugural Cannabis Clinical Outcomes Research Conference (CCORC). With a focus on learning and sharing latest research findings, CCORC aims to provide a forum for …

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“The Adventurous Tasters,” a Story for Fat Tuesday

Editor’s Note: Today’s timely Mardi Gras-themed post comes from contributing editor Sarah Brady Siff, a visiting assistant professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, in affiliation with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).

The place: Paris. The year: 1850. “It was mardi-gras, and copious libations of flaming punch had prepared the natives for anything or everything.” So began a tale reprinted widely by newspaper editors across the globe. 

(Here in the United States, Mardi Gras 2021 surely will be the soberest on record, New Orleans itself having condemned “superspreader” crowds, called off parades, shuttered bars, and banned most alcohol sales.)

An illustration of Fat Tuesday revelers from the 1859 book Les Rues de Paris [Streets of Paris].

In 1850, though, the local Parisians were the type to spend a lot of time hanging out at a café. So that’s where they were on Mardi Gras, drinking punch (likely made of rum) at a café just up the block from an apartment where a physician lived with his family. 

This physician had received an excellent imported shipment of cannabis extract, and he was keen to share it for recreational use on this most celebratory and hedonistic day. The drunken revelers were willing participants—”adventurous tasters”—living in the same city at the same time as that famous literary circle, the Club des Hashischins. The doctor showed up with 15 grains, or about 1 gram, to distribute at the café. “Not more than a single grain was given to each,” read the article. Some swallowed it like a pill, while others smoked it or smeared it on a cigarette paper to smoke with tobacco. One grain was dissolved in a glass of Curaçao for the “master of the house; [but] his two young and handsome daughters were forbidden to taste of the drug.” 

Of course one of the daughters found a way to sample the cannabis; it would hardly have been a story otherwise. After about 45 minutes, the girl shrieked and “was suddenly struck with delirium and hysterical movements of a very alarming appearance,” according to the article, which went on to describe her ordeal:

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Turning Back the ‘Diol: CBD Hemp Prices Crash; History Repeats Itself?

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Nick Johnson, a historian and editor based in Fort Collins, Colorado. His book Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West (2017) is a history of cannabis agriculture that explores the environmental and social dynamics of the nation’s most controversial crop. He also blogs (and occasionally podcasts!) about all things cannabis on his website, Hempirical Evidence.

CBDProducts
A sampling of the “rapidly expanding market of CBD-enhanced products.”
Image courtesy of Jeoy Pena via Wikimedia.

The booming market in Cannabidiol (CBD) products has gone bust. The boom was touched off by the federal re-legalization of hemp in the 2018 farm bill, which led many farmers, investors, and entrepreneurs to stake their hopes on a new crop supplying a rapidly expanding market of CBD-enhanced products—from gummies to lotion to lip balm. The benefits and risks of such products are still being substantiated by science, but consumers gobbled them up, anyway, looking for relief from ailments ranging from arthritis to insomnia.

Now, there are simply too many CBD products and companies on the market, using far too little hemp. Places like Colorado, Kentucky, and the Ohio Valley report an oversupply of hemp, and per-pound hemp prices have plummeted. The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) reluctance to approve CBD products has irked some in the industry, but the driving factor for the bust appears to be simple economics.

Akin to WWII Program

This is not the first time Americans have produced too much hemp for their own good. In 1942, the federal government suspended its cannabis prohibition to create a domestic hemp industry to supply cordage for the US military during World War II. After years of being told that the crop was a dangerous and addictive drug, American farmers were suddenly encouraged to grow thousands of acres of hemp. In a flash, the government built 42 hemp processing facilities across the Midwest, providing hundreds of jobs and invigorating depressed rural areas.

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Maine’s 2020 Marijuana Market Report

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. 

In the year 2020, the State of Maine officially legalized the sale of recreational marijuana—good timing for the industry, considering that the pandemic restrictions put in place by the administration of Governor Janet T. Mills provided an opportunity for medical and recreational users to sit back in their homes, relax, and partake in the consumption of cannabis. Initial sales of recreational marijuana in October 2020 set high expectations, but the opening boom was followed by an oversupply in local markets that hint at potential problems for the industry in years to come.

In the past, illegality kept marijuana prices high and supply low but not anymore. The legal market now faces the structural challenges of supply and demand, and, like any new rising commodity, cannabis must experiment with market adjustments, which will result in winners and losers. Unfortunately, it is small businesses that must confront these challenges in the middle of a pandemic. It is not all bad news for the consumer, though, since these are good times to enjoy the highest quality and abundant variety of “flower” in the state’s market history. Overall, there are good omens for the years to come.

In a tight November 2016 referendum that ultimately required a recount, the citizens of Maine voted to legalize medical and recreational marijuana production and consumption. The medical marijuana industry was quickly established and was up and running with little delay. The takeoff for recreational marijuana, however, was not as smooth. Opponents of legalization used legal and political tactics to delay the process with hopes of ultimately blocking recreational marijuana in the state. Nevertheless, the voters had spoken, and there was no turning back. In October 2020, almost four years after the legalization vote, Maine’s market for recreational marijuana finally launched.

One month after the first eight licensed recreational marijuana businesses opened their doors to customers, Maine authorities reported cannabis sales of $1.4 million, which brought the state $140,945 in sales tax collections. Initial data showed that smokable products represented 76% of total sales, while concentrates (14%) and cannabis-infused products (10%) made up the rest of the market.

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Craft Weed offers clear-eyed optimism on cannabis farming, regulation

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from new contributing editor Nick Johnson. Johnson is a historian and editor based in Fort Collins, Colorado. His book Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West (2017) is a history of cannabis agriculture that explores the environmental and social dynamics of the nation’s most controversial crop. He also blogs (and occasionally podcasts!) about all things cannabis on his website, Hempirical Evidence.

In his 2018 book Craft Weed: Family Farming and the Future of the Marijuana Industry, Ryan Stoa, visiting professor at Louisiana’s Southern University Law Center, aims to put cannabis agriculture at center-stage in the legalization movement. He argues that legalization has the “potential to revitalize the American family farm and rural economies nationwide” (p 15). His main reason for thinking so: growers care—about their plants and their local communities, and they can be regulated in a way that suits both, despite what industry analysts might be predicting.

Stoa understands that when it comes to cannabis regulation, “it all starts at the beginning of the supply chain, where farmers plant, care for, and harvest marijuana” (p 7). Despite this, in places such as California, his main study area, “lawmakers completely neglected the subject of marijuana agriculture for twenty years” after a citizen initiative legalized medical marijuana in 1996. The result has been an unregulated Green Rush that has left many well-intentioned, small-time growers to fend for themselves and given rise to fears that, when full legalization does come, it will privilege only the largest and wealthiest entities.

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