‘Too High to Fail’ explores the ‘green economy’ of cannabis

Staff Report

Imagine this response from law enforcement: “Two years ago, I found you with cannabis, you went to jail. Today, I see you’re just more farmers in our community, like I see at the farmers’ market with my wife on Saturdays.”

Randy Johnson, a sergeant with the Mendocino County (California) Sheriff’s Department who witnessed the transformation marijuana made to his county, is just one of the many society-spanning figures who populate Doug Fine’s new book, Too High to Fail. This account of America’s sustainable and growing cannabis industry sums up the rapidly-evolving “green economy” and changing attitudes on all sides of the issue. The results have bearing on the role of government in all of our lives, from spending to civil liberties, and much more.

In Too High to Fail (Gotham Books, August 2012), Fine moves his family halfway across the country to a place where a small group of resourceful and determined individuals are creating a roadmap for America’s economic future. Spurred by journalistic curiosity and a dawning awareness of the role cannabis (aka marijuana, hemp) played in his own family life, Fine searches for the model locale that could demonstrate the benefit of decriminalizing cannabis — an event that could simultaneously tap a multi-billion-dollar resource for the American and world economies and provide medical relief to millions. He found it in Mendocino County, California, a “northern coastal paradise” where a small group of farmers are legally growing cannabis for medical purposes and creating a template for sustainable farming.

From greenhouse to outdoor crop, through an extended California rainy season and federal raids, Fine follows the Mendocino growing season and, in particular, “Lucille,” one farmer’s chosen plant, for nine months until, at last, she is harvested, dried and trimmed. Fine accompanies the grower as he delivers a jar of Lucille’s flowers to an elderly husband and wife, who use the doctor-recommended cannabis for chemotherapy-related appetite stimulation.

Relying on the journalist’s tool of “following the money,” Fine spells out how the end to cannabis prohibition is a threat to many influential industries that benefit from the ongoing war: pharmaceuticals, banking, the private prison industry and the prison guard lobby (not to mention the Drug Enforcement Administration).

Ultimately, Fine concludes, in a narrative that reads like wildly humorous investigative journalism, the benefits of ending the 40-year, trillion-dollar Drug War, are particularly the enormous potential such a decision has to revive the American economy and cripple the drug cartels. As Mendocino Sheriff Tom Allman puts it: “I was raised to believe these people were ruining our county. Now, I think they’re helping save it.”

Local law enforcement gets it. The question is, will the open, taxpaying farmers Fine follows avoid federal prosecution at the tail end of the War on Drugs?

Doug Fine is an investigative journalist, author and solar-powered New Mexican goat herder. He has reported from five continents for The Washington Post, Wired, Salon, High Times, The New York Times, Outside, NPR and US News & World Report, and he has a regular column in New Mexico magazine. For Too High to Fail, Fine has been interviewed by MSNBC, CBS News, the BBC, Conan O’Brien, The Huffington Post and The New York Times, among others. Fine is the author of two previous books, Not Really an Alaskan Mountain Man and Farewell, My Subaru. Visit www.dougfine.com for more details.

Editor’s note: Both Colorado and Washington state approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in their states in the Nov. 6 general election.

From the Nov. 14-20, 2012, issue

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