As an environmental anthropologist living in the Washington state over a period of a decade (with a four year break in the East Coast of USA) I cannot but be astounded by the rapidly changing legal landscapes around one plant – Cannabis. It is fascinating to observe the unfolding relationships between the state and its residents, between the national government and the state, and between patients and their care givers around this one plant over a span of a very short period of time. Cannabis has co-evolved with humans for millennia. And for thousands of years Cannabis, in its various manifestations, has found its way into the homes, hearths, and apothecaries of dozens of civilizations. And yet, for the patients in WA state who wanted to use the plant – its flowers, its resins, and oils made from it – to heal themselves, have been entrapped in complex legal ambiguities ever since Medical Cannabis was made legal in WA in 1998. As Washingtonians are going through yet another round of ground breaking legal transformations that redefine human-Cannabis relationship in the state, it is time for us to reflect on how such changes are impacting people who have been growing the plant for a long time to either heal themselves, or take care of other ailing people. My current ethnographic project will involve in gathering life stories of people who have been growing Cannabis at a small scale for medicinal purposes, and who have been very active politically in the state (and in the nation) to shape public opinions and public policies. I will particularly focus on understanding the ways in which the current legal changes are affecting these growers’ ability to continue with their growing activities, and also the kinds of hardships many are currently facing paradoxically due to the legalization laws in the state. Lastly, I will focus on the ways in which such Cannabis growers and medical Cannabis patients/patient advocates are forming solidarity networks to both aid each other navigate the increasingly confusing legal landscape and to also lobby for social policies that are more in tune with the needs of the patients.
I am at the very initial stage of my ethnographic research. I invite comments, suggestions, and contacts. I look forward to learn from the WA medical Cannabis community. In return, I aim to contribute to public scholarship around this issue, and to produce scholarly work that will highlight the human face of Cannabis legalization in WA and beyond.