Earlier this month, my great home state of Illinois joined the party and legalized medical marijuana, becoming the 20th state in the nation to do so. With most of the rest of the thirty straggling states now trying to push forward some kind of legislation, and with Washington and Colorado both taking the unprecedented step to outright legalize it, and with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta officially climbing on board the Green Express by saying that he believes it has legitimate medicinal properties, the nationwide legalization of marijuana is less of a hope and more of an inevitability. At some near point in the future, most likely one that takes place in our own lifetimes, the use of marijuana will be as prevalent as cigarettes, alcohol, and aspirin.
And, as anyone who's ever stepped foot in a bar or liquor store or hospital knows, that means big corporations jockeying for your money.
As this report from CNBC makes clear, there's tons of money in pot. It's the so-called "largest cash crop in California" for a reason: the cultivation of marijuana plants in Mendocino County alone is theorized to reach roughly $1.5 billion a year. Seeing as no one has a perfect understanding of just how many plants are being grown up there, that estimate may actually be low. And with that much money hanging around, corporate interests are sure to follow.
What the CNBC report surmises, then, is that what has happened with the coffee/beer/wine industry is going to happen to the marijuana one: Small artisan growers get a jump-start and make big profits for a few years before large corporations buy them out, create partial monopolies, and dominate the industry from that point forward.
Legal commercial production in the U.S. is currently handled by a patchwork of small farmers. While there have been rumors for years of big agricultural firms buying up land ahead of legalization, it would still take time to develop a mass production product, and even more time to build a Maxwell House-like brand that would come to dominate that market.
Dominate they will, unless something drastic changes with the state of the country's fundamental economic philosophy. That's just the current way of our world. But there's actually a distinct possibility that those artisan developers aren't even going to get their handful of glory days before big business takes over. And the swift market domination may come from one of our favorite genetic-engineering corporate supergiants: Monsanto.
The move certainly makes sense on a logical level. At its core, marijuana is an agricultural product. It's a crop. And that's a system that Monsanto, as detailed time and time again in these parts, specializes in gaming. As far as the "technological advancements" they're working on in order to put themselves ahead of the game:
The company is investing millions of dollars into this new technology dubbed "RNAi." With RNAi, it is possible to manipulate everything from the color of the plant to making the plant indigestible to insects. With medical marijuana, RNAi could be used to create larger, more potent plants effectively cornering the market and exceeding the legal demand for the plant.
Picture the future: Marijuana-laced edibles being sold at Ralph's -- behind some kind of glass case, of course -- that have not only been made with GMO-infused peanut butter and Rice Krispies and flour, but the marijuana itself has been raised with genetically-modified seedlings. That kind of product doesn't seem like what cancer patients and other ill individuals will be looking forward to digesting to dull the pain. (We're talking about medical marijuana here, after all.)
Which means that maybe the main issue we'll be eventually dealing with is not whether we should have access to medical marijuana at all, but whether we should have easier access to medical marijuana that's organic and GMO-free.
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