In 2004, California organic farm inspector Chris Van Hook submitted an unusual request to the US Department of Agriculture: He wanted permission to certify a medical marijuana farm as organic. He’d already inspected three pot farms, he says, before word came back that weed couldn't be organic because it wasn’t a federally recognized crop.
So Van Hook founded Clean Green, a certification program for medical marijuana farmers that's nearly identical to the USDA's organics program—except that it can't legally use the term "organic." Since launching in 2004, Clean Green has certified 80 medical marijuana growers who last year produced 8,000 pounds of cannabis valued at as much as $33 million. It's the only inspection service aimed at pot smokers who want their ganja to be farmed as safely and ethically as their organic salad greens.
In practice, medical marijuana is typically greener than pot from your curbside drug dealer, which is often sourced through Mexican cartels or illegal grows in national forests. But the distinction pretty much stops there. Grown under the radar of state and federal agricultural authorities, even "medical" cannabis can be covered in toxic mold, raised in rooms filled with shedding pit bulls, or coated in commercial-grade synthetic fertilizers and insecticides such as phosphate and Diazinon, which can be especially toxic if improperly applied. "Under our program a huge advantage is the patient can be assured that their cannabis is being grown in a legally compliant manner," says Van Hook. Well, at least "legally compliant" enough for any eco-conscious stoner.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I accompanied Van Hook, a balding, soft-spoken, 54-year-old, on an inspection of an indoor cannabis growing operation in a house deep in a Northern California redwood forest. He'd asked that I not reveal the name and location of the grower, a fit, clean-cut young father whose day job involves corporate leadership training. It had been about a year since Van Hook had certified his grow-op; just as USDA organic standards require, it was now up for its annual re-inspection.
"I just want to do something I believe in," explained the grower, who I'll call Jack, as we stood outside his modest bungalow, "and do it as ethically and environmentally consciously as possible."
Legalizing recreational drugs in the United States "is an entirely legitimate topic for debate," President Barack Obama said yesterday during an online chat session moderated by YouTube. He was responding to a retired deputy sheriff whose question criticizing the War on Drugs had been voted the most popular during the web video site's "Your Interview With the President" competition.
While Obama quickly added that he's "not in favor of legalization," his comments went further than those of any past past president in questioning the wisdom of a drug policy based on arrests and incarceration. It was also a significant break from Obama's own rhetoric. During an online address in 2009, he'd dismissed outright a popular question about whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy, chuckling as he said, "No, I don't think that's a good strategy."
Obama's statement will probably to score points with people who favor pot legalization—according to some polls, nearly half of all Americans. In early 2009, he earned kudos from potheads when the Justice Department announced that it would stop raiding medical marijuana dispensaries that complied with state laws. In recent months, however, the IRS has intensified audits of California pot dispensaries, where marijuana is a $14-billion business with ties to venture capitalists and Wall Street (as I document in a recent feature, Weedmart).
In February, 2009, the US Department of Justice announced that it would no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries that abided by state laws, sparking a boom in quasi-legal cannabis investments that I detail today in "Joint Ventures" (my feature from the January/February print magazine that's now online). Even so, the fast-growing grey-market in ganja could be about to get pruned. The Internal Revenue Service is reportedly auditing some of California's largest and most reputable medical pot dispensaries, examining their compliance with an obscure section of tax law aimed at drug dealers. Dispensary owners say that the provision, if strictly applied, could effectively snuff out the nation's burgeoning medical marijuana industry.
Enacted in 1982, the year that President Ronald Reagan declared a "War on Drugs," section 280E of the federal tax code explicitly bans any tax deductions related to "trafficking in controlled substances." Though 280E predated the legalization of medical marijuana in California and other states, it has remained "like a dagger held at the throat of every medical cannabis organization," says Steve D'Angelo, the founder of Oakland's Harborside Health Center, which recently underwent an audit by the IRS that targeted its compliance with the provision. "If 280E is applied literally and strictly, it has the potential to close down Harborside and every other medical cannabis dispensary."
According to Americans for Safe Access, a nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of medical marijuana users and growers, the IRS has recently launched audits of several other large dispensaries in California based on 280E. (The IRS did not return a phone call last week). "I think it's a new front [in the War on Drugs]," says Caren Woodson, the ASA's director of government affairs. "We're nervous that this is going to have a big effect."
Labels on the front of foods marketed to children tout all sorts of nutritional benefits, from high protein and natural flavoring to heaps of fiber and vitamin C. But most of those claims are just feel-good marketing designed to mask the fact that our kids are being sold junk food. This is according to a study released yesterday by the Strategic Alliance, a California-based group of nutrition and exercise experts. It concludes that 84 percent of the nutritional claims made on the front of 58 "better for you" products were misleading; most of the products didn't even meet the basic nutrition standards set by the US Department of Agriculture and the National Academies of Science.
Among the worst offenders:
Dora the Explorer Fruit Shapes calls itself "an excellent source of vitamin C, naturally flavored, 90 calories per pouch, and gluten free." But 58 percent of its calories come from sugar.
The "Meal Facts" panel on Kid Cuisine All Star Chicken Breast Nuggets advertises "white meat chicken, excellent source of protein, no artificial colors or flavors." Yet 38 percent of its calories come from fat.
Apple Jacks touts its high fiber and low fat content, but derives 48% of its calories from
sugar—its primary ingredient.
"Without FDA regulation, instead of giving more information to parents struggling to make the best decisions for their kids, the system is deceiving them," said the study's author, nutritionist Juliet Sims. "The question is: Do food companies want to be on the side of parents and give them helpful information, or don’t they?"
During negotiations between Chinese President Hu Jintao and President Barack Obama at the White House today, one of the biggest sticking points will be China's longstanding manipulation of its currency, which Obama has bluntly called "an irritant." The artificially cheap Chinese renminbi translates into cheap Chinese exports that have fueled a gaping $250 billion US-China trade deficit and contributed to the loss of some 2 million US jobs. This afternoon, the two presidents were joined by 14 CEOs from US multinationals such as Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and Coca-Cola. But how much backup will they give Obama on the currency issue?
Maybe not much. According to the latest annual survey (WSJ sub req'd) by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, China's main commercial hub, more than half of US companies working there said that their businesses would be harmed by a 10 percent increase in the Chinese currency's value. In other words, US companies that have already outsourced production to China—which includes a huge portion of corporate America—now fear that their profit margins will shrink if their Chinese-made "American" products become more expensive in the US.
So clearly, multinationals shouldn't be the only interests at the table. Small and midsize US businesses that actually produce all of their products here ("American" companies, in the true sense) should also be heard.
They're definitely feeling snubbed. "The Obama administration has made clear, over and over again, that its heart is with the multinationals and that it does not really think America’s domestic manufacturing base matters," said Ian Fletcher, a research fellow at the US Business and Industry Council, a Washington think tank representing small and midsize manufacturers. "But as long as the U.S. keeps leaking $500 billion a year through the trade deficit, America will continue to struggle to create jobs."