Note: “Smile, You’re On Cannabis Camera” is also Part 11 of Cannabis Commerce in the USA, found in its entirety here.

Once upon a time the word “medical” was associated with physicians, and the word “marijuana” was associated with psychedelics. In 2010, with “medical” and “marijuana” married, any study of cannabis commerce must address the ramifications of “medical marijuana.”

Not everyone accepts the new world order.

For many herb lovers, the word “marijuana” connotes freedom, romance, serenity, positive vibration, artistic pursuit, and even love. Place the word “medical” in front of it . . . and images of endless legislative wheel spinning interrupt the reverie.

The arrival of medical marijuana is both heartening and frustrating.

Medical marijuana’s upside:

  • It’s the tip of the spear targeted at prohibition.
  • Cannabis the commodity receives more publicity cast as “medical marijuana” than “marijuana.”
  • More politically correct for candidates to embrace.
  • Wins over conservatives in a way marijuana never did; their resistance to recreational use could soften, too.
  • Accessibility: persons lucky enough to live near retail outlets can walk three blocks and pick their poison – I mean medicine.

Medical marijuana’s downside:

  • One step forward, two steps back on the road to legalization.
  • It keeps activists distracted by short term developments, i.e. will the town of Lafayette, CO repeal its dispensary ban, instead of  focused on the long term goal of repealing prohibition nationwide.
  • It’s created a schism within the legalization movement. “Patients” with chronic illnesses, their immediate support groups, and organizations which look after their rights, fixate on gaining safe access to medical marijuana. Once that’s been achieved, justice has been served. Period.
  • Serving justice is expensive. Patients’ rights groups seldom have funding left to crusade for recreational use, even if they wanted to.
  • Healthy proponents wonder why marijuana requires an accompanying adjective. This faction naturally believes recreational use is every bit as valid as medicinal use. Justice won’t be served until individual liberty is restored, too.
  • Forays into the economic mainstream have a decidedly downward influence on MPMTR (maximum pot-ential marijuana taxation revenue). While tax dollars and fees are already being generated, the sporadic amounts being collected here and there are a fraction of the potential windfall when pot’s 100% legal nationwide.
  • Fans regulatory brushfires from city greens to the White House lawn.

That’s a lot to juggle in one chapter. Or it would be, if a microcosm of the skirmishes playing out all over “the home of the free” wasn’t occurring right before my eyes. A regulatory saga, with all the elements of a great literary work, has been unfolding in my own “hood.” It’s a bizarre and engrossing tale about a strong monarch, in a position of absolute power, in times of great upheaval. An undertone of fear and foreboding lurks beneath the surface.

It could be called:

I am Big Brother

Matt R. Cook is the Senior Director of Enforcement for the Colorado Department of Revenue, which includes the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. His brainchild, Colorado HB 1284, contains 60 pages of highly publicized regulations and fees that sent shock waves reverberating throughout the state’s medical marijuana community.

Prior to the bill’s passage, the medical marijuana community was establishing its own economic equilibrium. Incidents resulting in collateral damage to customers, competitors, or the community at large were few and far between. The mood was onwards and upwards. Was some regulation called for? Probably. But a little would have gone a long way.

Instead, Cook and Co. introduced HB 1284, the “Colorado Medical Marijuana Code,” as “an exercise of the police powers of the State for the protection of the economic and social welfare and the health, peace, and morals of the people of this state.” It’s a safe bet that having their morals policed isn’t exactly what 150,000 card holders or dispensary personnel had in mind.

Evidently, George Orwell’s 1984 figured prominently on Cook’s summer reading list. The book’s key slogan is “Big Brother is watching you.” Mutual love for video surveillance (coming right up) makes Cook and Big Brother kindred spirits.

Read the following quote Cook gave Denver weekly Westword, then decide if you’re OK with a decade or so of similar legislative ingenuity . . . or whether forcing the issue via Marijuanamarch 2011 strikes you as a saner proposition:

This product needs to be tracked from seed to sale. So, how do we do that? We decided the way to do that is to account for virtually every gram of this product, from the point it’s put into the ground until it’s put into the hands of the customer. If they pull a plant that weighs a pound, you have to account for a pound of product. All of it will be under video surveillance, so I can manage the integrity of the process.

Credit where credit is due: Cook packs all that misinformation and hypocrisy into one deliciously fascist paragraph!

Analysis follows below.

This week’s episode: Seed to Sale

“This product needs to be tracked from seed to sale. All of it will be under video surveillance.” Here Cook has conjured up Cannabis Camera, a permanent reality show. The laird of the lens plans to track every stage of a plant’s journey from “seed to sale.” Why draw the line there? Why not go all the way from “seed to smoke?” Might as well fast-forward to a time when cameras are in every living room, too.

There’s precedence for extensive video surveillance in the gaming industry, another Cook fiefdom. Alas, gaming is not a commodity. Alcohol is. Tobacco is, too. There is no such scrutiny of these sin-taxed substances from “seed to sale.” Are cameras going into the Breckenridge Brewery anytime soon, to determine if mold is contaminating the hops? No, they are not. Kudos to Mr. Cook for some out-of-the-box thinking. Not to mention the political dexterity it took to ram his vision through the state legislature in record time.

However, Cook might as well have said, “all of it will be under video surveillance, so I can drive the market back underground by making people feel as uncomfortable as possible, as I micromanage free enterprise to death.”

If having your face captured on state storage devices gives you the willies, what is the alternative? Option one is a  good old Texas two-step with Jack Daniels. Buying from the same underground sources you frequented before dispensaries came into existence is option two. Bye bye cannatax.

It’s either that or submitting to an Orwellian twist on progress:

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Evidently, that scenario sounded damn good to the Chief Enforcement Director, who supplemented it with some innovative framework of his own.

If heavy eavesdropping via video surveillance was good, wouldn’t assigning one inspector for every ten dispensaries be even better? Hell, yes! In other words, Big Brother will not only be watching you, he’ll be providing up close and personal scrutiny, as he regularly drops in on your dispensary to insure every aspect of your business is meticulously maintained according to the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division’s stringent standards. The one-to-ten ratio is consistent with the 1984 edict, “it’s pointless to resist.”

But why stop there? Why not rewrite history, too?

What if the Division of Revenue Thought Police purged all vestiges of the positive vibe prevailing pre-HB 1284 – way too Woodstockian, with way too much non state-sponsored free enterprise going on – by disallowing all further references to the term “dispensary?” Done. “Dispensary” has been superceded. “Medical Marijuana Center” (MMC) is now the official, state-ordered designation.

The need?

“This product needs to be tracked from seed to sale.” Why, exactly, is this a “need?” I don’t know everything, but I was under the impression that air, food, water, and maybe sex qualify as “needs.” Why is producing Cannabis Camera, a show that will be expensive for both dispensary . . . I mean “MMC” owners and taxpayers a “need?” What exactly was broken with the old system, a textbook example of free enterprise in action?

Apparently everything.

Why doesn’t the Department of Revenue need to track goods which generate State of Colorado sales tax from cotton seed to sale? What if Rosa Martinez, of Bailey’s Uniforms and Designs in Poncha Springs, CO, has been slipping hemp fibers into “100% cotton” Broncos jerseys? What then? Without cameras crammed into every nook and cranny of the factory, how can we determine whether Bailey’s is bamboozling the public?

With federal prohibition firmly in place, each state is free to come up with similarly mischievous and equally hypocritical regulatory quirks, a dismal proposition if ever there was one.


“. . . so I can manage the integrity of the process.” Hmm. In less capable hands, might a camera be placed at an incorrect angle . . . or be subject to tampering? Would someone else be remiss . . . by failing to insist upon HD quality? Uh-oh. It could all go to hell in a handbasket in a hurry.

It’s noteworthy that the word “integrity” has not previously been associated with the concept of absolute state control. Most readers come away from the pages of 1984 thinking “Mussolini, if the Axis powers won,” not “Wow, that Big Brother oozes integrity.”

1984 describes the ultimate nanny state. Cook aspires to be the ultimate nanny. We are his children – because we can’t be trusted to think for ourselves. He’s telling us that if we submit sheepishly, we have integrity. If we disagree that every plant “needs” monitoring from seed to sale, we lack integrity. Got it.

Who will pay for the surveillance systems and the technicians to run them? We will. In this instance, the children pay the nanny.

Where is medical marijuana grown?

“. . . accounting for every gram from the time it’s put in the ground.” Most “patients” put grams in the bong, not the ground. But all joking aside, Cook doesn’t seem to know that virtually all medical marijuana is grown inside, in containers. Seed for commercial weed grown in Mexico, or plants destined for clandestine plots on national forest land, is put into the ground.

Buds from those illicit plants don’t wind up all neatly hand-trimmed in small, oftentimes popcorn-sized buds like the ones enticingly displayed in . . . ahem . . . medical marijuana centers. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single gram of outdoor weed sold in any of them.

Evidently, terms like “hydroponics” or “aeroponics” must not be bandied about the Department of Revenue’s break rooms.

Unintentionally, Cook’s vision of outdoor plantations has a lot of upside. Colorado’s hot days and cold nights are favorable for nurturing “donkey dicks,” gigantic 8” to 10” purple buds which dazzled “stoners” back in the day. These have been replaced by the more potent, if downsized, buds of today. Why? Cannabis connisseurs prefer a purer, aphid-less smoke.

Just one question: how does Cook propose to maintain the “needed” video surveillance of all the acreage in Colorado? Will he launch a special surveillance satellite, the Matanuska I? Will he commission Google Earth? How many people will be doing the surveillance work? What will their salaries be? Where will the budget come from?

Once the system’s in place, will drone planes penalize growers who lose track of a gram by spraying Agent Orange on their fields? Will they be taken to 1984’s “Room 101” for permanent reprogramming? Public stoning? Stay tuned. You won’t want to miss it.

This imagery is quite creative. It will certainly incinerate all the cannatax dollars that could be going to communities desperate for the income.

Why do we have to account for every gram?

“ . . . accounting for virtually every gram of this product.“ What if a Whole Foods produce gal lops off a bit of leaf from a broccoli stalk? Why doesn’t that have to be accounted for until it’s “put into the hands of the consumer?” What if she pockets it? What if she has swine flu? Why isn’t that gram important? Why doesn’t every gram of barley malt or tobacco require similar metrics? Kinda makes you wonder . . .

Giving good weight

“If they pull a plant that weighs a pound . . .” Indoor plants raised by inexperienced growers rarely yield more than 4 ounces each, if that. One or two ounces a plant is common. Maybe all that video surveillance will come in handy so that Department of Revenue personnel can observe what actual buds placed on actual scales weigh. Should be pretty illuminating – especially when they discover their calculations were off by a factor of around 4x to 8x.

I, Mattius

“. . . so I can manage the process.” Note Cook’s use of the personal pronoun, “I.” Apparently there’s a single marijuana mahatma, as opposed to a team of overseers with built-in checks and balances. How does Cook get away with it? Because Washington gives the Matt Cooks of the world carte blanche to get away with it, by categorizing marijuana as a federally prohibited Schedule One drug along with heroin and oxycotin. So it doesn’t care so much how much power the Colorado head honcho seizes. It’ll crush whatever innovative regulations Cook devises when it’s good and ready.

The inquisition

There’s room for one more tidbit from Cook’s Big Bag of Big Brotherisms, reported by

The Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division will be conducting an exhaustive check of arrest records, business associations and tax returns for anyone who applies for a medical marijuana license. Anyone who lies on their Colorado medical marijuana center application will be arrested, and charged for filing a false instrument.

Oh, by the way, the state application is 22 pages long and asks for bank account numbers, education, and marital information. Are polygamists disqualified?

“I don’t even know what my high school diploma has to do with providing medicine to patients, but apparently it’s one of the requirements,” Carl Wemhoff, president of Herbal Remedies Inc. in Westminster told thecoloradoan.

In addition to prior felony drug convictions, there are several other automatic disqualifiers for holding a license: if you haven’t paid student loans, or are in arrears for your taxes or child support.

What if your lawn isn’t mowed? Is there a limit on how long you can keep your Christmas ornaments up? What if a dispensary owner doesn’t practice proper tire rotation? What then? Room 101 could be a busy place.

Is it any wonder Sensible Colorado attorneys predict 40% of the retail outlets formerly known as dispensaries will be abandoned? Oh, (big) brother.

Thriving under the influence

We’ve peeked at some phantasmagoric implementations of totalitarian cannabis control. And an enjoyable romp it was. For us. Maybe not such a joyride for mom and pop dispensary owners who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into businesses they loved.

But the situation’s not all doom and gloom by any stretch of the imagination.

The upside to establishing Big Brotherish control is that the persons and entities who contrive it, seize it, and maintain it generally do so for the long haul. Why go to the length of establishing all that mind control, if you don’t plan to exercise it indefinitely?

That means MMCs, albeit they’ll be ruled with an iron fist, will be with us indefinitely.

Yes, we can always hope for more — like full-on legalization. Right now, that’s like nerds hoping to land in the backseat with homecoming queens. But at least the present situation allows “patients” [MMJ-speak for “people] to make retail purchases, a pretty radical development when you consider that prohibition is still in force. In the overall scheme of things, that’s pretty sweet!

There’s also no doubt the surge in medical marijuana availability in some localities, in some states, is a wonderful development for people with chronic diseases, if they’re fortunate enough to live in hothouse hotbeds.

It’s also proven equally wondrous for persons without chronic diseases living in “the retail states,” California and Colorado. Sympathetic doctors think nothing of writing “recommendations” for persons whose stated maladies requiring marijuana mitigation fall a little short of “I was run over by a threshing machine, and my body is wracked by constant pain.”

In the shadow of Boulder’s flatirons, or on the boardwalk in Venice Beach, “Mr. Rider was permanently traumatized by a bout of poison ivy in 1978, and would decompensate without the palliative properties of Blue Rhino,” has proven sufficiently card-worthy.

Under the letter of the law, the latter scenario is technically “fraudulent,” to borrow the term of one Sensible Colorado attorney who seemed somehow shocked Cannabis Commerce guesstimates 75% of Colorado’s 150,000 card holders don’t qualify as walking wounded. Hello!

Will Cook be tempted to overregulate scrutiny for allotting medical marijuana cards? In other words, will “patients” of the future have to undergo a battery of Mayo Clinic-like tests, at their own expense, of course, to obtain their cards?

We’ll find out soon enough if Big Brother decides to kill the golden goose he’s done a fine job of throttling by the neck.


While there are surely other power-crazed regulators running amok from sea to shining sea, Cook’s autocratic take has a lot going for it.

It’s tempting to editorialize ad nauseum about legislation like HB1284. I could go on about how it’s just not fair, how it encourages bigger fish to swallow little fish, how it accelerates consolidation by larger and larger entities leading up to, say, Big Tobacco. But I’m not taking the bait.

We’ll see what the November legalization vote brings in California. We’ll wait and watch as the excitement mounts for Marijuanamarch 2011 next summer. There’s every chance Marijuanamarch 2011 will force the issue – and we won’t have to keep reading about legislative wheel spinning for a decade.

Without forceful action, separating “medical” from “marijuana,” will be about as easy as dividing Siamese twins.

Next section preview

More brainwaves were exchanged between yours truly, Chief Inspirational Officer of Cannabis Commerce, who graduated magna cum non-laude, and Jeff Miron, Miron, PhD, Director of Undergraduate Studies and Senior Lecturer in Economics at Harvard University – the most quoted man in marijuana. Dr. Miron, you may recall, appeared in Part 2, “The Enigma.”

The quotemeister from the Ivy League ivory tower also conceded our bet recounted near the end of Part 2 . . . and actually offered to send me my winnings in coveted Red Sox tickets! That’s an admission he’s actually capable of human error. The unexpected concession adds zest to Miron’s most self-assured dismissal of his critics yet.

What he had to say will shock and astound you!

It’s all detailed for your reading pleasure in Part 12, as we take a last look at the cannatax forecasts of the stars . . .