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Times They Are A-Changing

Is this “Reefer Madness”?

We’re looking forward to fields of marijuana amid the corn and soybeans in Southern Anne Arundel County.
    That’s one implication of the semiannual survey Anne Arundel County opinion just released by The Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College.
    Medical marijuana is riding a high, according to the survey, with 69 percent in favor of allowing its planting, processing and sale in Anne Arundel.
    Approval comes “with restrictions,” In survey wording, that position is “in keeping with the stance of some county council members but originally opposed by County Executive Steve Schuh.”
    State law newly allows medical marijuana, but Schuh wanted none of it for Anne Arundel. Now he’s said okay, under the council’s strict rules on marijuana as a crop and product.
    Farming and processing the leafy plant are targeted for South County, on operations of at least 10 acres that are guarded but don’t show lights at night.
    Under those rules, you don’t have to be smoking pot to imagine marijuana as Southern Maryland’s new tobacco.
    From colonial days, tobacco was Maryland’s cash crop. Until just a decade or so ago, farmers could make a good income off tobacco, though it took a lot of work that fewer people were willing to do. Now a tobacco field is a rarity.
    Tobacco was laid low after the federal government won an enormous settlement from the tobacco industry for hiding the health risks of smoking. Maryland used some of its share to buy out tobacco farmers; they had to promise never to grow the sot weed again.
    More settlement money was spent on finding new crops to replace tobacco. Broccoli, fancy greens, flowers and grapes were all candidates, but none as good as marijuana.
    Hemp, the cannabis kin of marijuana, is as old as the colonies. Colonizing nations wanted hemp for cloth, thread and rope and required its cultivation. Nation-builder Thomas Jefferson preferred it to soil-depleting tobacco because hemp took less and gave back more, including cattle feed.
    As a specialized hemp product, medical marijuana will take more cultivated growing conditions than hemp grown for fiber and fodder. But both like soil rich in organic matter, so our soils stand to benefit, along with our farmers.
    From farmer to people in pain, marijuana has a broad future with us. Like hemp, it has policy and politicians on its side. That assures a series of open doors. Broccoli, even grapes, were never so lucky.
    Production and sales rules are written into the law, and mostly expressed in the negative. Marijuana dispensaries may not be located closer than one mile apart, for example, and window and counter displays will not be allowed. Look at the other side and you see invitations to an industry, even to special exception zoning.
    Before long, I bet there’ll even be agricultural advice centers teaching best management practices to marijuana farmers. Processing the crop for best medical consumption is a developing science — and art.
    Americans are more favorable than ever before to legalizing marijuana for fun.
    In 2012, Colorado and Washington State made pot legal. Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., followed.
    By 2013, 58 percent of Gallup’s national survey told pollsters that marijuana should be no crime. That number held steady in this month’s Gallup Poll, conducted October 21.

The Anne Arundel County Public Opinion Survey
    In its 20th year, the survey is a project for college students, who learn survey techniques and analysis. Conducting the study is the Center for the Study of Local Issues, headed by Dan Nataf. This year, 589 county residents 18 and older were surveyed by evening phone calls to landlines and cells, with an online panel also contributing.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com