Let’s fantasize of an across-the-board legalization of marijuana by the federal government. Stop laughing and set aside all of the improbabilities of such fantasia for now. Our purpose is to examine the ramifications of legalizing a substance that, in the past century, has infected our federal masters with an arguably unprecedented messianic zeal and unslakeable thirst for moralistic discipline. That such a rollback of federal marijuana statutes could ever occur amidst the current climate of rampant general paranoia and loathing of all things even slightly subversive is, indeed, laughable. But we soldier on. In fact, it is in the spirit of living during a time of most oppressive fear and loathing where we may begin. Assume all is the same, except we are now free to cultivate and smoke pot with impunity. Let’s see how this might play out.
We’ve already made our first incorrect assumption. Cultivate with impunity? Not likely. First we must procure our Official United States Marijuana Grower’s license from the newly created Office of Psychoactive Substances, a subdivision of the Department of Agriculture. We can’t just walk in and get a license, of course. First we must navigate a Kafkaesque labyrinth of regulatory obstacles, beginning with the license application itself, form THC-420. So dense with irrelevant minutiae is this voluminous questionnaire, inquiring deeply into our motivations for becoming a federally sanctioned cannabis farmer, we may well decide to just grow our buds on the sly. Ah, but woe betide to any who deign to “moonshine”--grow sans license. So declares the sign on the wall at the OPS office:
“Any individual and/or organization who shall grow or attempt to grow unlicensed cannabinoidal substances shall be subject to a fine of not less than one-thousand dollars ($1,000.00) per metric ounce of cannabinoidal substance and shall also be subject to a term of no more than six (6) months in a federal penal institution, or, should said weight not exceed one metric ounce, said fine shall not exceed nine-hundred-ninety-nine dollars ($999.00) and said penal liability shall not exceed one-hundred-seventy-nine (179) consecutive days. Furthermore, any individual and/or organization who shall abet or attempt to abet another in the cultivation of unlicensed cannabinoidal substances shall be subject to the same penalties as described above, pursuant to United States Federal Penal Code BS--MF--13.”
Yikes! So we slog through the form--“pressing hard”, as it warns balefully, for we are making five (5) copies! Finally, our hand throbbing from writer’s cramp, we proudly present our application to the gum-snapping, perfunctorily friendly drone, so bureaucratically ensconced behind her unnecessarily high counter. We shift restlessly as our government servant peruses our form with what seems like resigned boredom disguised as rigid contempt. At last, she produces a rather large rubber stamp and similarly proportioned inkpad. With deliberate deliberation she stamps the front page of our form: “Approved, subject to applicant’s case history, digital processing, and payment of processing fee”. Case history? Digital processing? Processing fee? The clerk sighs, and with the manufactured patience of one speaking to an errant child, explains that our application will be approved, provided we pass an extensive background check, submit to fingerprinting, and fork over five-hundred dollars ($500.00) for the privilege. Undeterred, we dutifully recite our social security numbers aloud--she has apparently forgotten she could just as easily have copied them from the front page of our form THC-420, which still resides on the counter before her. She summons us behind the counter (!) to submit our fingerprints and pay our processing fee. We have spent five (5) hours at the OPS office.
Marveling at the rapidity with which the government constructed such an intimidating bureaucratic hash, we return home anxiously to await the arrival of our license. Six (6) weeks later, we receive a letter:
Dear Prospective Cannabis Grower,
Thank you for your recent application for licensing under the Realigned Cannabis Cultivation Act of two-thousand-four (2004).
We are sure you are anxious to receive your license and begin cultivating cannabis for the enjoyment of your family and friends. We share your excitement.
You will soon receive your Official United States Marijuana Grower’s license in the mail. Please follow the instructions in the accompanying letter carefully.
Shortly after receiving your license, an Office of Psychoactive Substances Inspector will come to your residence. DO NOT commence cultivation until the inspector has cleared your facilities for cultivation. The inspector will advise you of all pertinent growing regulations for your area.
Once again, thank you for your application. We look forward to doing business with you.
Second Assistant Deputy Undersecretary for Cannabinoidal Cultivation
Office of Psychoactive Substances
Department of Agriculture
Six (6) weeks after this letter, we receive our license. Approximately five (5) minutes after we open the envelope, there is an aggressive knock at the door. It’s the inspector, of course. Clad in a dark blue windbreaker with “OPS” printed large across the back, he invites himself in. If we didn’t know any better, we’d have pegged this guy as Narco. Of course, now we glimpse a faded DEA t-shirt through his carefully unzipped jacket! It is open far enough to see his shoulder-holstered Desert Eagle as well. He scans the room from behind opaque aviator sunglasses and flips open his credentials and badge:
OPS guy: Agent Smith, OPS.
Us: Where do you want to start?
Smith: Will you be growing indoors or out?
Us: Hydroponics. In that room over there.
Smith: Can’t do that. It’s a street exposed room. Kids might see in.
Us: Uh, okay. I guess we’ll do it in the back bedroom.
Smith: (now in back bedroom) Ok, this will be fine. Just keep the windows covered.
Us: Yes, sir.
Smith: What are you going to grow?
Smith: (visibly annoyed) What strain?
Us: Oh. Thinking about Super Afghani.
Smith: Can’t do that.
Us: (sighing) Why not?
Smith: Aside from trafficking in seeds from a nation with which we are at war?
Us: Ah, of course. Tell you what, why don’t you tell me what we can grow?
Smith: Glad to. (produces a thick tome from behind the Desert Eagle) All in there.
Us: Ok. Thanks.
Smith: I’ll be back in six (6) weeks.
Us: Can’t wait.
The manual weighs in at five-hundred-six (506) pages, not counting indices, appendices and addenda. From amidst the bureaucratic blah blah, we deduce three (3) main points: Firstly, power usage will be monitored. Excessive kilowatt-hours are grounds for a reclassification of our grow to “industrial reapage”. In other words, we are producing too much for the reasonable use of a dozen (12) people. Our grow would then be considered as one of mass production, thus quintupling (5x) our taxes and “reapage fees”. Secondly, we are required to submit names, ages and addresses of all who will partake in our harvest. Each member of our list must undergo “case history, digital processing and processing fee”, just as we did three (3) months ago upon submittal of our grow application. The processing fee is a mere one-hundred dollars ($100.00) for smokers, however. Finally, our choices of strains we are allowed to grow are limited to “locally indigenous varieties only”. If we wish to grow “non-indigenous” varieties we must complete form THC-420a/e\069, and submit an environmental impact statement along with any associated “impact fees”. As we are not aware of any varieties “indigenous” to our northerly-located state, we resign ourselves to a failed attempt at legal cannabis cultivation. We pop a legally scripted Oxycontin to hold off a nascent migraine and set out for Eddie the Head’s house, where we can partake “off-list” for a one (1)-time fee of fifty dollars ($50.00). Eddie has friends at the OPS; he scored a waiver.
Matthew Bryan resides in Nevada with his wife and pets. He pens libertarian screeds in his spare time to relieve his unrelenting fury toward the ever-encroaching state and those who abide and abet it. His columns have previously appeared on Strike the Root.