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Cannabis farmers or criminals? Enforcement-first approaches fuel disparity and hinder regulation

  • Author(s): Polson, Michael
  • Petersen-Rockney, Margiana
  • et al.
Abstract

Since California's cannabis legalization, localities have played a central role in determining the regulatory terms of where, how and within what legal bounds cannabis cultivation occurs. Siskiyou County, a rural, conservative and majority white county in Northern California, chose not to recognize cannabis cultivation as agriculture. It drew up highly restrictive cannabis cultivation regulations, largely under the purview of law enforcement rather than civil agencies. Hmong-American cultivators, made highly visible through enforcement practices, policy forums and media discourses, have borne the brunt of this regulatory regime. Cannabis policy, especially in its ethnic-racial dimensions, has become symbolic of broader anxieties about cultural and agricultural change. We employed ethnographic methods to research the formation and enforcement of Siskiyou's restrictive cannabis cultivation regulations, and their differential effects across local populations. We found that the county's law enforcement–first regulatory approach blurred civil and criminal lines, made some cultivators more visible and vulnerable to enforcement, and promoted criminalizing approaches to cultivators, even among civil regulatory agencies. These developments hinder the ability of agencies (including the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife) to ameliorate negative social and ecological effects of cannabis cultivation through civil regulation, support and services.

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