A new industry gets practical
In the meeting rooms at a downtown hotel last weekend, a trade show was held. As readers can see in the photo above, it looked like any other trade show. But this one was not for beauty supplies or textile machinery. It was for marijuana.
For those who still get a sense of unreality from marijuana billboards or dispensaries, the trade show would have been even more unexpected. Called the Reno Cannabis Convention, it was all about commerce—vendors were marketing packaging, security, insurance, humidity control, solar gear, farm implements, well digging, bookkeeping, fertilizers, watering systems, beverage carbonation, confectioners’ supplies, aeration equipment, and heat and lighting technology.
There was not the tone of whimsy one might have expected. Most participants were serious about their businesses, though some humor was unavoidable in the trappings of the event, such as product names (Smoking Screws), and it was hard to avoid the conclusion that some of these products could usefully have showed up a couple of decades earlier (smell-proof bags).
Professionals were on hand to offer their marijuana-tailored services, though banking seemed to be one such field that was missing. And here, as in every field, there were “consultants.”
Politics was not pronounced, but there was awareness that while state governments have created a frontier, a federal sword of Damocles still hangs over it. Thus, a Las Vegas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has been revived and had a booth. An organizing meeting for a Reno chapter was held at a downtown restaurant after the trade show.
“We’ve been wanting to start a Reno chapter for quite a while,” said Nevada NORML spokesperson Chris Thompson.
Here and there were individuals or entities trying to ride the new field of commerce to success. A Colorado firm that publishes a magazine—Sensi—in that pioneering state has just issued number one of a Las Vegas edition.
“We’ve been around for two years,” said Sensi associate publisher Daniel Asarch.
The magazine’s slogan is “The New Normal,” and the term is coming on fast in the legal marijuana field. Marijuana marketers are trying hard to replace the feeling of unreality about legal marijuana with a feeling of business as usual.
There are still people alive who remember the last time marijuana was legal and normal. Though it surprises some, the illegality of marijuana is a relatively recent development—1937 and the enactment by Congress of the Marihuana Tax Act over the objections of the American Medical Association but with the support of alcohol and timber industries. (As with so much that drug warriors do, the feds had their own way of spelling marijuana.) The Tax Act didn’t actually outlaw the plant. Rather, it taxed it so heavily that it was impractical to buy—$100 an ounce, the equivalent of $1,717.18 in February 2018 dollars. Illegality came later.
For a couple of generations, the feds used falsehoods, racism and pseudo-science to indoctrinate the public about marijuana—and achieved a fair amount of success. But there was always a subculture that knew from usage that most claims about marijuana were untrue, and after wider use became common in the 1960s, the falsity of the case against marijuana slowly went mainstream.
The first state ballot measures appeared by citizen petition in 1996, with Arizona and California defying drug warriors and approving medical use of the plant. The Arizona Legislature promptly overturned that voter-enacted measure, but two years later, Arizona—now joined by Alaska, Nevada, Oregon and Washington—approved it again. In D.C. and Colorado, where opponents succeeded in having measures removed from the ballot, opinion surveys indicated it would have passed there, too.
With the anti-drug bureaucracy and most politicians resisting every step of the way, the more people learned about the plant—and, more to the point, the more they learned that they had been misled—the more the tide turned. The earlier deceptions were essential to the success of the movement for change, and all of the movement was in one direction. Legality followed medical use, and there are currently efforts to increase places the plant can be consumed.
In Nevada, resistance persists, with some in law enforcement reluctant to cooperate with the voter-enacted public policy. Most politicians remain frightened of the issue. Limits on the number of licenses, and decisions by small counties to restrict the use of the plant, force some Nevadans to grow their own.
Two of the few politicians who led the march to legality were on hand at the trade show. Washoe County Commissioner Kitty Jung and Clark County Sen. Richard “Tick” Segerblom spoke to a session of the merchants and others who attended, responding to continuing concerns.
“The truth is, the police hate the home grows,” Segerblom said, sympathizing with one small county resident who said he has found that local law enforcers play games with the limits on number of plants—treating any six plants as the limit, whether male or female (females are productive, males mostly not). Jung said residents need to approach their state legislators about refinements in the law that will address such matters.
She is pushing the Washoe County Commission to allow public lounges, and she asked the merchants to contact their commissioners.
“What I’m hearing is that I don’t have any support [on the commission],” she said. “So I need your help.”
Segerblom said there is little likelihood any officials will now try to reverse the public votes.
“The local governments are living off this money,” he said. “But they can’t say, ’Oh, but we don’t want to deal with the problems that come with it.’”
If there was an antithesis to the Cannabis Convention that day, it may have been two blocks away at the Reno Ballroom where the 2018 Washoe County Republican Convention was meeting.
“No, I did not know the marijuana convention was in town,” said former state treasurer Patty Cafferata, laughing. “Two blocks away?”
She said the Republican convention was going well.
“I think fine. We’re actually getting along well, which is usually not our style,” she said. “But we did have a few fights over the rules committee, but those all got ironed out, and we’re moving right along.”
Just like the other convention.