2013. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review. 36(2). pp.215-230.

Despite its ongoing federal illegality, marijuana production has become a licit, or socially accepted, feature of northern California’s real estate market. As such, marijuana is a key component of land values and the laundering of “illegal” wealth into legitimate circulation. By following land transaction practices, relations, and instruments, this article shows how formally equal property transactions become substantively unequal in light of the “il/legal” dynamics of marijuana land use. As marijuana becomes licit, prohibitionist policies have enabled the capture of ground rent by landed interests from the marijuana industry at a time when the price of marijuana is declining (in part due to its increasing licitness). The resulting “drug war rentier nexus,” a state–land–finance complex, is becoming a key, if obscured, component within marijuana’s contemporary political economy.

2015. Territory, Politics, Governance. 3(4). pp.387-406.

As governments worldwide justify the transformation of marijuana governance from one police power (law enforcement) to others (e.g. public health, zoning), the place of marijuana in lawful society is transforming rapidly. No venue in California is more central to this than land-use regulatory bodies, which decide how marijuana rights, practices, and relations become territorial. Land-use powers, as a declaration of the state’s police power, require a definitional rendering of ‘community’. This article analyses an episode of outdoor marijuana cultivation policy-making and the struggles over the definition of community in a conservative exurban California county. From debates on fences, property line setbacks, rental terms, and nuisance complaints to racial and economic anxieties and the roaming stigma of crime, marijuana advocates confronted a powerful logic of private property and the moral-aesthetic propriety it implies. Despite the subordination of advocates’ claims to the terms of private property, outlaw communities sustained their own forms of territorial governance, informal regulatory and enforcement powers, and understandings of community. This episode, which illuminates territorial production across illegal/legal lines, has implications for understandings of liberal rule of law, political possibility, and the practice of citizenship.

2017. The Illicit and Illegal in Regional and Urban Governance and Development: Corrupt Places.Francesco Chiodelli, Tim Hall, & Ray Hudson, Eds. Regions and Cities Series of Regional Studies Association. New York: Routledge.

The recent liberalization of California’s marijuana policy has increasingly made the plant an object of economic developmental visions. This formal interest in marijuana belies marijuana’s development—and underdevelopment—under prohibition. Analyzing the case of Humboldt County, this chapter traces how marijuana became an integral part of the county’s timber-based developmental regime and, since timber’s decline, a pivot around which a struggle between smart growth and rentierdevelopmental blocs over the county’s post-extractive development have circulated. In each developmental vision, the illegal both defined the limits of the formally developable and marked a mode of development (and governance) otherwise. See Table of Contents and Abstracts here. Download introduction here.

2018. Economy, Crime and Wrong in a Neoliberal Era. James Carrier, Ed. European Association of Social Anthropologists Series. New York: Berghahn Books.

US marijuana legalization breaks with prohibition in many ways. Despite celebrations of the “green rush” and market “emergence,” however, marijuana’s formation as a market has a longer history rooted in prohibition. Drawing from ethnographic research, this chapter argues that an expanded War on Drugs in the 1980s produced a field of intervention, “the marijuana economy,” that incited marketized subjectivities, discourses and practices in a neoliberal, if paradoxically illiberal, manner. Later, marijuana’s not-for-profit medicalization was also made legible in market terms. As marijuana enters formal market circulation, this chapter urges attention to its articulation with older market moralities and inequalities. See Table of Contents and download Introduction here.

2019. Environment and Planning: Nature and Space. 2(2): 229-251.

Over the past two decades, activists and market actors have successfully liberalized marijuana consumption and distribution in most US states. Given ongoing federal supply-side interdiction strategies, however, production has been another matter. This article traces the emergence of marijuana cultivation as an environmental matter. ‘‘The environment’’ increasingly constitutes a material-discursive social field into which actors (e.g. activists, law enforcement, producers, conservationists) can launch interventions into productive processes. The article traces three early, formative interventions in northern California: by federal agents to reclaim and protect public lands; by a county government to discipline and segregate compliant environmental citizens from recalcitrant, racialized ‘‘criminals’’; and by producers themselves to mobilize environmental discourses in regulatory debates. Amidst ideas of pollution, reclamation, stewardship, and sustainability, these projects revalorized marijuana production, articulating with and departing from entrenched systems of inequality and stigma. As marijuana production liberalizes, this article draws attention to the legacy of prohibition moralities in regulatory debates, the necessity of incorporating criminalized actors in civil regulation and knowledge formation, and the possibility for a liberation environmentality that exceeds the terms of exploitative, extractive relations that dominate contemporary agriculture, land use, and drug policy. Download final draft version here.

With Margiana Petersen-Rockney. 2019. Special Issue on Cannabis. California Agriculture. In Press.

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. Download PDF version here or click link to left for online version. Also, here’s a link to the whole issue for those curious about cannabis in California.


2019. Special Issue: Rural Almanac. Journal for the Anthropology of North America. In Press.

Framed around the case of cannabis cultivation in northern California, this essay explores the social category of the rural outlaw. It argues that outlawry consists not only in those whose actions are illegalized but also in the conditions through which racial capitalism accumulates and dispossesses at its various frontiers. Cannabis, before and after its legalization, gets caught up in various dynamics through which outlawry can be assessed.

Accepted for Publication. The Routledge Handbook of Interdisciplinary Cannabis Research. Routledge.

This chapter analyzes the dynamics unique to—and shared by—prohibition and legalization. First, it investigates how each regime works by looking at its effects.Second, it explains the role each policy regime plays in its political-economic context. Finally, it analyzes how prohibition’s dynamics are altered or rearticulated through and after legalization. The chapter relies on and underscores the importance of ethnographic approaches in understanding the continuities and discontinuities between prohibition and legalization

Legalization and Prohibition: Breaks, Continuities, and the Shifting Terms of Racial-Capitalist Governance

With Chris Dillis (lead), Hekia Bodwitch, Jennifer Carah, Mary Power, and Nathan Sayre. Accepted for Publication. The Routledge Handbook of Interdisciplinary Cannabis Research. Routledge.

Recent changes in legal status of cannabis cultivation in California are increasing regulation of production in the state, and raising questions about whether legalization will result in the industrialization of the cannabis industry, following the example of US agriculture in general. In this chapter, we briefly review the characteristics of industrialized agriculture and contrast with current and past characteristics of the cannabis industry, including the social and environmental context of cannabis production prior to legalization. In 2018, with the adoption of recreational use legislation and the development of a cannabis cultivation licensing program through the California Department of Agriculture, a new opportunity arose for the cannabis industry to become a regulated agriculture sector and expand beyond its original clandestine modes of production. We present early evidence that industrialization is already under way in regions of California that are far from the historical epicenter of the illicit cannabis industry, yet subject to policies shaped by its legacy. We contemplate what industrialized cannabis agriculture might entail for socio-ecological dynamics in the future, including implications for freshwater resources-- which has become a familiar theme of discussions surrounding the environmental impacts of cannabis. We conclude by exploring obstacles to research and the urgent need for interdisciplinary, mixed-methods collaboration, particularly in the period prior to full industrialization and its likely impacts on ecology, industrial structure and regulation.

Industrializing Cannabis? Socio-Ecological Implications of Legalization and Regulation in California