Friday, November 24, 2017

Field Report: Senator Alan DeBoer addresses Marijuana

State Senator Alan DeBoer is a pro-business, good-government Republican.  But on marijuana he reverses himself.

Marijuana jumbles the normal politics of small business, entrepreneurship, economic development and regulation.   

He could fix this.

Southern Oregon marijuana
Wine is now thought good.  The politics of wine make sense.  Southern Oregon politicians love the wine industry.  They invite wine tourism, they accommodate the zoning, land, and water needs of the wine industry, cities advertise they have vineyards, and politicians run interference to make sure the regulatory system accommodates the needs of the industry.

Marijuana has politicians confused.  Alan DeBoer's talk at Rotary was a prime example.  He is on the wrong side of history.   He is even on the wrong side of his own politics.

Apparently, we grow world class marijuana here. DeBoer's senate district is the epicenter of the outdoor cannabis industry.  We are to marijuana what the Napa Valley is to wine, and the Silicon Valley is to technology.  Apparently we are the right latitude, the right mix of sunlight and water, the right mix of growing expertise and processing technique.  The industry recognizes this region, a small Golden Triangle.

A local grower informed me he just got a report back from a national processor on his crop producing CBD, the oils with medicinal and non-psychoactive properties.  They said his product was extraordinary, offering him the highest end of the market.  Locally produced marijuana finds itself in Amsterdam, labeled as "Jackson County origin", fetching the highest prices in their display case.

It is a multi-million dollar industry. Rural land here is dotted with outdoor marijuana "grows" and greenhouses.  Local architects are busy designing processing facilities, and contractors are backlogged building them.  We had full employment all growing season for anyone job-ready.  Workers doing the planting, tending, pruning, harvesting, drying, trimming are well paid.  It is an industry dominated by small entrepreneurs of largely local people.  Margins are high.  Businesspeople are getting wealthy.  Money is pouring into the area.  Ambitious, hard working young people are employees for a year or two to learn their craft, then make arrangements to go into business themselves.  

We are witnessing opportunity, ambition, and wealth creation. Land is productive, people well paid. It sounds like the American dream.  

One would think politicians--especially pro-business, car-dealership owning, Republican politicians like Alan DeBoer--to be thrilled with this.  What we witness is hesitation and contradiction.
Senator DeBoer

Senator DeBoer's talk at Rotary displayed a reversal of expectations.  He was reserved-to-negative about an industry that is bringing tens of millions of dollars and full employment into his senate district.

He responded at length to a question on marijuana asked by a local wine grower.  

Everything Alan DeBoer said about the industry was essentially negative.  He voiced problems, not opportunities.  Instead of describing local rural land dotted with outdoor grows and greenhouses as a good thing--rural land productive, small businesses thriving, people employed--DeBoer's comments implied that all those grows were a kind of public nuisance, unwelcome change and pockmarks on the otherwise serene landscape.  (One would normally expect a pro-business Republican senator would welcome new businesses in his district, and see those grows as positive.)

He noted that when he got off an airplane at the Medford airport at harvest season he smelled marijuana.  He said he hears from complaining neighbors, unhappy about marijuana grows that change their views. (One would expect a pro-business Republican senator to defend job creators and the property rights of business people, not echo the nay-sayer critics.  Those are jobs one smells, local land being productive.)

He referred to high numbers of people being employed, and cited that workers made $18 an hour, a number he criticized both for being too high and it being paid in cash.  He said those $18/hour jobs create a problem for employers who want to find employees who will work for much less, and expressed concern for those low-wage employers. (One would expect a pro-business Republican senator to be thrilled at family wage jobs and demand for employees.)

He complained about high number of applications for new grow sites that was burdening the bureaucracy in Salem.  All this new business was putting demands on the system the state was not prepared for, he said, expressing this as a problem. (One would expect a Republican businessman senator to be thrilled at the rush of new businesses in his district, and unhappy that government bureaucracy was impeding economic development.  He would change the bureaucracy, not criticize "too many" new businesses.)

He complained about Colorado and Oregon being leaders, getting ahead of the federal government on cannabis. Oregon, he said, should have waited for the federal government before allowing an existing underground marijuana industry to be legalized. (One would expect a pro-business Republican senator to welcome state leadership and innovation that leads to a high margin new industry in his district.)

He complained about the federal government banking laws that essentially prohibit the industry from doing normal banking.  (One would expect a pro-business Republican would propose a state solution, e.g. a state bank or other accommodation to work around this impediment rather than say the industry should disappear until government gets its act together.)

1967 was fifty years ago.
Senator DeBoer needs to clarify what side he is on and what decade he is in. He may not realize it, but he has chosen sides in a culture war, and he has chosen the minority side, the one that is defensive, not hopeful, the one that is stuck in the past.  It is not 1967.  Some people disapprove of marijuana per se.  There is a constituency for DeBoer if he wants it.

It is likely there are some senate districts in Oregon where one could take the position that marijuana is bad, that the jobs it creates aren't worth it, that he disapproves.  He could make Rotary speeches there and lean against the industry, as he did this week in Medford. 

Alan DeBoer's senate district is not one of those districts.   If DeBoer wishes to remain a state senator--something that is not altogether clear to me that he does--then he has an opportunity to clarify his thinking and presentation. He needs to be his true self: a pro-business, pro-entrepreneur, pro-economic development, socially progressive, modern and open minded man.

He is currently siding with the nay-sayers, the people who imagine marijuana users and producers to be buzzed stoners, not ambitious entrepreneurs.  He is siding with neighbors who don't want landowners to use their land.  He is siding with people who don't particularly care if small businesspeople make money.  He is siding with employers who like having ample choice of employees to hire at poverty wages.   The public votes in Oregon and elsewhere demonstrate that a majority of people have moved on and are looking ahead.

DeBoer needs to decide which side he is on.

The cannabis industry is an industry that creates wealth and opportunity in his district.  It would be natural for a state senator from that district to be an advocate, not a nay-sayer by implication.  He could support the industry while working to help resolve the negative externalities it creates.  It starts with a presumption that profitable new entrants in the industry are a good thing, not a bad thing.  It starts with a presumption that any regulations are not intended to kill the industry through regulation, but rather to make the industry safer to continue and grow.

Supporting the industry would be the archetypal pro-business, pro-economic development, pro-growth attitude.  DeBoer could do this.  But in public at a Rotary meeting Wednesday, he did the opposite.  He sided with the nay sayers.  

He can fix this if he chooses to. 


Rich Fairbanks said...

Here in the Applegate, it is a gold rush. People paying cash for rural properties, bulldozing the mixed conifer forest and planting weed. Then the mice and voles gnaw the plants. Out comes the rodenticide. Lots of rodenticide. Dead hawks, coyotes and anything else that eats small rodents. Next, the grower brings in water tanks. Lots of water tanks. Now your well goes dry. Probably coincidence. Call the Water Master? They have no money and no staff for enforcement. Now it is close to harvest, the plants are worth serious money. Out come the rifles, the weird looking 'employees' with the jailhouse tattoos. Soon gates go up across roads that have been open for generations.
I first smoked grass in 1967. I believe it should be legal. But I do not believe in trashing the forests.
Folks, if you are buying outdoor grown marijuana, you are buying poisoned predators, bulldozed forest and massive cartel profit.

Anonymous said...

A very interesting article. My employer and I have done lots of work with clients in the industry, and they are hardly stereotypical stoners. They have to jump through lots of hoops in order to acquire water rights. The medical marijuana portion of the industry is more strictly regulated than alcohol. I was originally opposed to legalization,but have changed my mind.

Anonymous said...

How is it that any place outside of Oregon can label Jackson County Origin when it is illegal for teh product to leave the state?

Up Close: Road to the White House said...

Thanks for these comments. Let me respond to Rich Fairbanks. Every grow site is different, just as every farm and every family is different. Some farms have plenty of water. A melon field--something with which I am very familiar personally--takes several hundred times as much waster as does a marijuana grow. Many crops require pesticides. I don't doubt Rich's own observation and experience, but it is not the experience I have witnessed.

As regards the Amsterdam shop selling Jackson County Origin marijuana. Yes, it probably got their illegally, although I have no personal knowledge of it at all. My point was a different one, though. My point was about reputation and branding. Apparently, within the industry, our region has a reputation. For all I know, a bottle of very high end Napa wine might be for sale in Amsterdam without having gone through the correct customs. But if it were for sale for $100 while there were wines from other places for sale for $10 there would be a point: Napa wines have a reputation as a premium product.

I don't know if, in fact, local marijuana is much better or different, but apparently it has a reputation, presumably earned. Insofar as Southern Oregon will be a place with a thriving marijuana industry--or not--its ability to brand a product as premium will be important.

I look at this issue--both marijuana and wine--from a business and community point of view. Both are psychoactive drugs subject to abuse, and are therefore dangerous. I want their production and use regulated, not to kill them off, but so the businesses can survive locally and make Southern Oregon a more prosperous, happy community.