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A Cannibus Testing Machine … Enough to Make You Salivate

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GELFAND’S WORLD-I get a lot of email advertisements from scientific suppliers. They offer all kinds of products and services, some of them amazingly high tech. But one particular ad was a surprise, not because of the technology, but because of the social and legal context. 

The ad started by pointing out the advantages of buying certain equipment. And what a spectacular array of equipment it is -- a gas chromatograph, an infrared spectrometer, and even a mass spectroscopy device. It's enough to make you salivate, at least if you are a biochemist. 

The advertisement reminded me a little of the show CSI, but a CSI  episode that had gone off a little warped. In this case, the question was whether I was being invited to commit a crime rather than solve one. 

The ad in question, in case I have inspired your curiosity, describes "a turn-key solution for your cannabis testing needs." It goes on to brag, "If you want to get up and running quickly, with the knowledge and expertise to train your team and the applications to meet future regulatory requirements . . . " 

That's an interesting turn of phrase: future regulatory requirements. 

The email was sent by a sales group out of the midwest with a fancy 21st century sounding name, but which is connected to one of the biggest old line manufacturers of chemical and biological instrumentation in the western hemisphere. I was being offered the chance to get into the newly developing field of (quasi)-legal marijuana production and analysis. 

Let's go back a moment to a previous administration here in Los Angeles. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich used to explain to audiences that the marijuana being sold locally had pesticide residue. He referred specifically to something called bifenthrin, and said that he had a legal duty to bring this fact to public attention. Trutanich implied that marijuana being distributed through the medical marijuana shops was really coming in from foreign suppliers. 

Mike cohen has a video up on the Vimeo site that shows one such discussion (from 2009) between Trutanich and a medical marijuana user at a public forum. The slightly convoluted logical implication seemed to be that since marijuana was tainted, that was a reason to crack down on the pot dispensories. 

Apparently one of our major American industries feels differently. Instead of pesticidal pot, we are being offered a chance to bring the modern science lab into the business in order to rid ourselves of worries about contaminants. 

But first, we get the sales pitch. "Pesticides used during the cultivation of cannabis can be toxic at high levels to patients and consumers. Chemicals such as organochlorides, organophosphates, pyrethroids, carbamate, insecticides, plant growth regulators, fungicides and other compounds pose a serious risk." 

That reference to patients and consumers indicates first where we have been, and then describes where industry thinks we will go. Consumers. 

The solution now being offered to us is to use the modern biochemistry lab approach to toxicity analysis, so that consumers can buy a clean product. 

You have to admit that in a legal system which increasingly accepts marijuana cultivation and possession, this makes sense. Or at least it would make sense if federal law were to be brought into compliance with an increasing culture of acceptance. 

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The problem for the marijuana supplier and the marijuana user is that the law hasn't quite gotten that far as yet. This presidential administration has a semi-official understanding that it will look the other way, but who knows what a President Huckabee or a President Bush would do. We could go back to the herbal version of Prohibition. 

So it may be a surprise that even some little part of corporate America is joining the 1960s generation, except that "turn on, tune in, drop out" is replaced by turn on, tune in, but don't drop out. Instead, buy pharmaceutically pure, unadulterated cannabis without having to look over your shoulder for red lights and sirens. 

I suppose that incursion of the chemical industry into marijuana production and sales was bound to come eventually. It just seems a little odd to see it now, after all those decades of the war on drugs. 

One manufacturer's representative explained to me that the medical marijuana industry is growing rapidly, and there is increasing demand for equipment and methods for screening out toxic contaminants. He referred to marijuana by prescription, which fits right in with California's acceptance of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The times really are changing. 

Visiting an old topic that needs revisiting 

It's nice to be vindicated by Michael Hiltzik of the L.A. Times. Back about fifteen years ago, I joined an online discussion group that was centered around computer technology. One of the topics that came up was the continuing unemployment problem for a lot of qualified computer programmers. Yes, there were jobs, but there were also people without jobs. 

One issue that emerged over the years was the fact that American law was being used to flood the employment market with overseas competition. Specifically, the H-1B visa system allowed America's largest software and engineering companies to bring in foreign programmers and engineers, pay them less than the going rate for Americans, and keep them in a situation that was more like indentured servitude. That term indentured servitude comes up again and again, as the Hiltzik column demonstrates. 

Over the years, I passed along these observations in a series of columns, first in American-Reporter.com, and then here in CityWatch. 

The argument is actually fairly simple. If the U.S. is going to tell students to buckle down and get that college degree in a technology field, then our government shouldn't simultaneously destroy the employment possibilities for a lot of those students. The other side of the argument is that pushing American students into studying science and technology may be misleading if there is going to continue to be a job shortage. 

In a series of articles and comments, Hiltzik has busted the industry and the H1b system it pushes. Here is one from February that tells the story.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])  

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 63

Pub: Aug 4, 2015

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