BOGOTA — When I hear about people now selling marijuana legally in the United States, I think of all our fellow Colombians who have died over the years fighting America's absurd war on drugs. I think of Luis expand=1] Carlos Galán and Rodrigo expand=1] Lara Bonilla, two politicians gunned down by drug traffickers, and I imagine how these victims could have made Colombia a better place to live. What sense did their deaths have?
Then I hear the story of Jeff Oberfelder, an American marijuana grower whose website details the various strains of cannabis he can sell in the state of Washington. It appears that he became bored with plain old farming, abandoning his apples, cows and poultry, in order to produce marijuana on his estate near Lake Chelan, where he moved so his native Canadian wife could visit her family more easily.
Since mid-2013, Oberfelder has been a licensed marijuana grower, deemed worthy by the regulating Liquor Control Board, which also regulates alcohol sales. He paid the initial $1,000 required, filled out 140 pages of forms, and invested $100,000 to develop his farm, where he cultivated 600 marijuana plants over 15,000 square feet.
He also paid $20,000 for software and security mechanisms, and $10,000 for cameras to monitor the site. His plants met the required standards and biological characteristics, and had no contact with pesticides and other harmful chemicals such as glyphosate, which Colombia's Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria has thankfully banned here.
So as a duly licensed marijuana producer, Oberfelder began his little farm in July 2014, which has since earned him a perfectly legal $500,000.
His wife and another person work with him during regular periods, and he hires more hands at harvest time, he tells El Espectador. With this operation, the couple and their five children are earning a living, a very good one. Some of the children smoke joints occasionally, as do Oberfelder and his wife, twice a week. One of the sons has used marijuana to alleviate chronic ear pain, he says.
Obelfelder sells his produce to authorized processors at $6 a gram. They pack them and sell them to retailers, which are currently few in number but growing, given the improving market. And while the marijuana sold on the black market doesn't offer the quality guarantees of that sold in authorized stores, that market hasn't shrunk because its product is cheaper.
The marijuana market is definitely growing in the United States. There are constant television programs and fairs to promote it, and those states where it can be sold are raking in millions of dollars in related taxes. At the end of our conversation, I noted how hard this reality is for many to face in Colombia, where we have lost a lot of valuable people fighting this supposed US-led "war on drugs."
Calling the American drug policy of the past "bullshit," Obelfelder said he can understand that marijuana legalization is hard for Colombians to confront. "And it's sad," he added. "Why did Galán and Lara die? For nothing, just bullshit!"