Aquaponics and the 2012 Election Part 1 – Marijuana
What I found far more interesting and impactful than the presidential elections this year were the state referendums. In this blog post, I’ll talk about what I view as the biggest news for aquaponics coming out of these elections – legalized recreational use of marijuana – and in the next post I’ll explore the harm that was done to the cause of sustainable agriculture through two other referendums.
First, the big news – Both my home state of Colorado and the state where both my children go to college, Washington, elected to end the prohibition on recreational marijuana use. The citizens of these states have decided to take marijuana out of the closet (literally) and tax and regulate it like alcohol. While the U.S. District Attorney’s stance on federal enforcement still remains to be seen, in my opinion this is just a natural continuation of a trend towards nation-wide legalization. This trend began with the 1996 passage of Proposition 215 in California that legalized the medical use of marijuana for the first time since the turn of the century.
Obviously marijuana has to be grown somehow to supply the likely new demand. Both of these states already have legalized medical marijuana statutes in place so meeting this demand will simply require expanding the current pot growing industry’s capacity. Most pot is grown using hydroponics. This is primarily for two reasons – hydroponics lends itself extremely well to indoor growing (e.g. hidden from law enforcement and nosey neighbors) and hydroponics is a way to exert tremendous control over the growing process, thus producing high quality weed as quickly as possible. That control is centered on the grow light duration and spectrum, and the nutrient NPK ratio dispensed to the plant at each stage of growth. While a grower has less control using aquaponics than with hydroponics (lights can still be controlled, but nutrients are more challenging), that lack of control may be counter-balanced by several benefits that aquaponics has over hydroponics. For example, in aquaponics you never dump and replace the nutrient solution (hydroponic growers are encouraged to do this every two weeks). Further, plant diseases that plague hydroponic growers, such as pythium, are rare in aquaponics. And aquaponics is completely natural and organic, which could be an important plus in health conscious states like Colorado and Washington.
Why does this affect aquaponics? I believe there will be a new focus on aquaponics as “organic hydroponics”. This could have both positive and negative effects on the aquaponics industry. On the positive side, this might catapult aquaponics from being an up-and-coming, but still fringe alternative agricultural technique, to the key to a very lucrative “new” market. This enhanced status will, no doubt, attract major investments in research studies and product development, and encourage the advancement of the industry. My concern, however, is that as marijuana becomes a common intersection with the hydroponics industry, we will share their burden of sometimes being synonymous with the plant itself. Hydroponics is just as effective at growing lettuce and tomatoes as it is at growing pot, but unfortunately that is not what many people think of when someone says “hydroponics”, at least in this state. I don’t want that to happen to “aquaponics”. I believe we are best served continuing to be thought of primarily as a vegetable and fish growing technique.
I am, however, thrilled by this outcome on a personal level, not because I consume marijuana (those who know me will tell you that a good dry gin martini is my “drug” of choice) and not because I’ve ever grown marijuana (although I find the plant fascinating, and if you have ever read Michael Pollen’s “Botany of Desire” you too know why) but for the following reasons.
- Civil Liberties – We have a higher percentage of our population imprisoned in this country than any other country in the world with 2.3 million people serving time in 2010. In second place is Russia, and a distant third is Rwanda. This is not a track record we should be particularly proud of. But this wasn’t always the case. Richard Nixon started The “War on Drugs” in 1971 and the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act gave it teeth. This in turn caused a dramatic increase in our prison population. The shocker – marijuana accounts for nearly half of that growth (see chart). In 2004 approximately, 12.7% of state prisoners and 12.4% of Federal prisoners were serving time for a marijuana-related offense. This equates to 45,000 people held in federal and state institutions, but does not count the 700,000+ people being held in local jails because of a marijuana related offense. 1
All those lives impacted, and potentially ruined, for what? For victimless, non-violent crimes centered on a plant that is non-addictive, and, in fact, has proven medicinal benefits? We learned in the 1920’s that prohibition of alcohol doesn’t work, but regulation does. What we have done in Colorado (and Washington) is to take a measured, sensible approach and treat marijuana like alcohol and regulate its use vs. ban it all together.
- Economics – Our state budgets are generally a mess, and anyone with any training in finance will tell you that there are two ways to fix an unbalanced budget – raise revenue and/or lower expenses. The legalization of marijuana does both. By taxing marijuana sales, Colorado is ironically collecting money for school construction. In fact, the tag line for the Colorado legalization campaign was “Strict Regulation. Fund Education.” State analysts project new tax revenues of somewhere between $5 million and $22 million a year. One economist projects a $60 million boost by 2017. Over half of Washington’s marijuana taxes will go to substance-abuse prevention, research, education and health care. Washington state analysts have produced the most generous tax revenue estimate of nearly $2 billion over five years. 2
On the cost side we are back to the extraordinary cost of imprisoning people for marijuana use. On average, states spend about 7% of their budgets on “corrections”, and, while it varies widely from state to state (hint: don’t get imprisoned in Louisiana) the average cost of imprisonment is $23,876 per person per year. 3 While some money will still be needed to establish and maintain a new regulatory structure around the new pot paradigm, and some pot-users who don’t follow those new regulations will still end up in jail, clearly relieving a state prison system of nearly 12.7% of its expense burden at $23,876 a head will have positive financial implications.
- Medical Use – In 1972 the U.S. Congress declared that marijuana had “no accepted medical use” and placed it under the Controlled Substances Act. Since then 18 of 50 states have disagreed by voting to legalize the medical use of marijuana. What can it be used for? Treating the symptoms of cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, pain, glaucoma, epilepsy to name a few. Dozens of peer-reviewed studies have proven its effectiveness, and marijuana has been declared an effective treatment by prominent medical organizations, not to mention its wide use as a medicine throughout world history. 4 Setting aside the arguments for legalizing recreational use of marijuana noted above, I truly can’t understand why any state would continue to prevent those who are sick and in pain from having access to an effective and natural treatment for their ailments like marijuana.
- Hemp – Finally there is hemp. The hemp plant is the practical cousin of the marijuana plant, and because of this affiliation it has been banned in the U.S. since the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. Lumping the two plants together under a Federal ban was an incredibly short-sited act both because it was unnecessary (I’m told that no one actually smokes hemp, it has far too little THC to be worth it) but also because we have deprived ourselves of perhaps one of the most useful plants on the planet. Hemp is used throughout the world in food, fabric, rope, paper, composite materials, jewelry, and even wastewater treatment and weed control.5 By legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, might we also reconsider our stance on growing hemp?
Whether you agree with me about the value of legalizing the recreational and medical use of marijuana, I hope that you are at least convinced that the citizens of a state should have the right to decide how to regulate its use, just like with alcohol. A poll taken on November 9 – 10, 2012 showed that Americans are evenly split on the issue of Federal legalization of marijuana, but strongly in favor of each state’s right to decide for themselves whether to legalize or not. I am encouraged by this, not only for the advancement of the aquaponics industry, but also for the advancement of civil rights, our economy, medicine, and the hemp industry.
Next: The failure of California’s GMO Labeling referendum, and the passage of the North Dakota Farmer’s Rights Constitutional Ammendment.
3 NY Times “1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says” By ADAM LIPTAK, Published: February 28, 2008 – http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/28/us/28cnd-prison.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1352901868-cADGs+NIyuok8YgmYh8wPQ
4 “Should marijuana be a medical option?” - http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/
5 Wikipedia “Hemp” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemp
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Posted: November 19th, 2012 under Blog, Growing, Inspirations, The AP Life.
Tags: aquaponic hemp, aquaponic marijuana, aquaponic pot, aquaponic weed, aquaponically grown marijuana, aquaponics, colorado aquaponics, colorado marijuana, grow organic marijuana, organic hydroponics
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