|Craft Weed, an upcoming MIT Press book, suggests|
that "Big Marijuana" may not pan out the way many
But Stoa argues that this fear rests on problematic assumptions about both the plant itself and the current makeup of the legal cannabis industry.
First, Stoa says that the specter of Big Weed "depends on there being one marijuana, one generic marijuana" that a company could patent and then mass-produce.
But under prohibition, clandestine breeding and experimentation has so far produced nearly 800 - and likely more - different varieties of marijuana, making it by far the most genetically diverse crop in modern American agriculture. As a result, today's marijuana consumer is used to a tailor-made experience: walking into their local dispensary and selecting from an array of different strains that have their own distinct flavor or effects.
From a legal perspective, this means that it will be very difficult for a giant cannabis company to patent any specific strain.
"When you attempt to acquire intellectual property rights, you can't do so if [a strain] has been in the public domain," Stoa said. "Because all these strains are already out there, it will be hard for people to go out and claim that, for instance, Sour Diesel was their invention. It would be hard for a company to step in and buy all the patents on the genetic aspect of marijuana."
A second major obstacle to "Big Marijuana" is the current landscape of cannabis production, which is dominated by small-scale producers who currently possess a great deal of social and political clout. Unlike large, bureaucracy-laden corporations, smaller outfits are able to quickly adapt to consumer demand and grow the latest popular strain.
"The challenge for a lot of these really big operations is that they're not as nimble as these smaller farms," Stoa said.
States and the federal government could also call on a familiar regulatory apparatus to protect smaller cannabis operations. The appellation system, in which an agricultural product is given a specific designation of origin, has protected small winemakers for generations, Stoa argues.
Law professor and cannabis scholar Ryan Stoa.
Similarly, Stoa suggests that marijuana appellations be called "American Cannabicultural Areas," or ACAs - regions where a distinct kind of bud is grown, and where its producers are protected from having a larger company co-opt their brand. In northern California, long a hotbed of cannabis cultivation, Humboldt County might be among the most obvious beneficiaries of an appellation model for cannabis. Colorado, where high altitude and large temperature swings make for potent greenhouse marijuana, may be another potential ACA.
Of course, Stoa admits that there will still be demand for mass-produced, low-quality cannabis, just as there is demand for cheap, mass-produced wine or beer. But under the protection of appellations, Napa wines survive alongside giant companies like E&J Gallo. Stoa says there's no reason why large cannabis producers could not coexist with smaller, more local and craft-type cannabis.
"Increasingly, people are willing to pay more for beer that doesn't suck," Stoa said. "A lot of people who are into marijuana want it to be good. They want it to be as positive of an experience as possible, and that comes from the artisan model."