Extending ethical consumerism theory to semi-legal sectors: insights from recreational cannabis
Ethical consumerism theory aims to describe, explain, and evaluate the ways in which producers and consumers use the market to support social and environmental values. The literature draws insights from empirical studies of sectors that largely take place on the legal market, such as textiles and agri-food. This paper takes a first step toward theorizing ethical consumerism in semi-legal sectors where market activities occur legally and illegally. How does extant theory extend to sectors such as sex work, cigarettes, and recreational drugs? This study draws on the case of recreational cannabis (marijuana) in Portland, OR (USA). Data from 33 interviews, structured fieldwork at 64 dispensaries, and the US Census Bureau American Community Survey are analyzed using qualitative, quantitative, and spatial methods. The findings are compared to 12 suggestions that emerge from the literature on fair trade, organics, alternative agriculture, and political consumerism. I argue that not all ethical consumerism theory extends to semi-legal sectors. Cannabis closely resembles theoretical expectations in terms of supply/demand, prioritization of ethical issues, and pervasiveness of false claims, but differs in terms of who organizes, which types of strategies are pursued, and how ethical products are framed. The differences stem from several pervasive stigmas about cannabis. I also argue that the stigmas that set cannabis apart from other (more legal sectors) and present challenges to ethical consumerism in cannabis are directly related to the War on Drugs. These insights suggest that prohibition (and its lingering effects) can inhibit the emergence of ethical consumerism.
KeywordsPolitical consumerism Sustainability Marijuana Cannabis Fair trade Illegal
Environmental Protection Agency
Oregon Liquor Control Commission
Social Movement Organization
United States Dollars
United States Department of Agriculture
World Health Organization
My sincere thanks to the many individuals and organizations working in cannabis and fair trade who took time to share their experiences, knowledge, and ideas with me. I am appreciative of the time and energy of two anonymous reviewers and the editor, whose thoughtful suggestions made important contributions to my revisions. I am also indebted to Sebastian Koos, who provided tremendous support in thinking about the demographics of political consumerism and analyzing demographic data. I am grateful for the efforts of several colleagues who provided feedback at various points in this project, including Maryann Bylander, Alissa Cordner, Francesca Forno, Paolo Graziano, the participants of the “Environmental Social Movements and the New Politics of Consumption” workshop at the 2016 European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) Joint Session in Pisa (April, 2016), and the participants of the mini-conference on “Re-embedding the Social: New Modes of Production, Critical Consumption and Alternative Lifestyles” at the Society for the Advancement of Socio Economics Conference (SASE) conference in Berkeley (June 2016). Special thanks to my undergraduate research assistants Ben Beecroft, Maya Anthony-Crosby, Sophie Owens, Ellen Schwartz, Jesse Simpson, and Jacob Weiss for their tremendous work in collecting and analyzing data and conducting background research; Philippe Brand and Benjamin Falk for fieldwork assistance; Lewis & Clark College for research funds, sabbatical time, and a research retreat; and the Department of International Affairs for providing a supportive and provocative intellectual home. Any errors or omissions are, of course, my own.
- Abraham, I., and W. van Schendel. 2005. Introduction: The making of illicitness. In Illicit Flows and Criminal Things, eds. W. van Schendel, and I. Abraham, 1–37. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
- ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). 2013. The war on marijuana in Black and White. Available from https://www.aclu.org/feature/war-marijuana-black-and-white. Accessed 25 May 2017.
- Andreas, P., and K. Greenhill. 2010. No sex, drugs, and body counts: The politics of numbers in global crime and conflict. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
- August, K. 2013. Women in the marijuana industry. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations 35: 89–103.Google Scholar
- BA (Brewers Association). 2014. Craft beer consumers: Q&A with Nielsen. Available from https://www.brewersassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/2014-Nielsen-Consumers-QA.pdf.Accessed 2 Jan 2017.
- Bartley, T., S. Koos, H. Samel, G. Setrini, and N. Summers. 2015. Looking behind the label: Global industries and the conscientious consumer. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
- Bauer, S., J. Olson, A. Cockrill, M. van Hattem, L. Miller, M. Tauzer, and G. Leppig. 2015. Impacts of surface water diversions for marijuana cultivation on aquatic habitat in four Northwestern California watersheds. PLoS ONE 10 (3): e0120016. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Benjamin, A. 2007. Ethical smoke screen. The Guardian. November 7. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ethicallivingblog/2007/nov/07/abrandofcigarettesthat. Accessed 13 Mar 2017.
- Benson, P. 2012. Tobacco capitalism: Growers, migrant workers, and the changing face of a global industry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Bottorff, J.L., L.J.L. Bissell, L.G. Balneaves, J.L. Oliffe, N.R. Capler, and J. Buxton. 2013. Perceptions of cannabis as a stigmatized medicine: A qualitative descriptive study. Harm Reduction Journal 10(1). doi: 10.1186/1477-7517-10-2.
- Brooks, C. 2010. 10 things to do in Portland: 9. Strip clubs. TIME Magazine. 26 March. Available from http://content.time.com/time/travel/cityguide/printout/0,31522,1975826_1975753_1975585,00.html. Accessed 3 Jan 2017.
- Brown, K. 2013. Buying into fair trade: Culture, morality, and consumption. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
- Brown, K. 2015. Consumer politics, political consumption and fair trade. In The Handbook of research on fair trade, eds. L.T. Raynolds, and E.A. Bennett, 157–173. London: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
- Brown, S., and C. Getz. 2015. Domestic fair trade in the United States. In The handbook of research on fair trade, eds. L.T. Raynolds, and E.A. Bennett, 174–190. London: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
- California, E.P.A. 1993. Abamectin: Avert prescription Treatment 310. Risk Characterization Document. Available from http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/risk/rcd/abamectin.pdf. Accessed 24 Feb 2017.
- Carah, J.K., J.K. Howard, S.E. Thompson, A.G.S. Gianotti, S.D. Bauer, S.M. Carlson, D.N. Dralle, M.W. Gabriel, L.L. Hulette, B.J. Johnson, C.A. Knight, S.J. Kupferberg, S.L. Martin, R.L. Naylor, and M.E. Power. 2015. High time for conservation: Adding the environment to the debate on marijuana liberalization. BioScience 65(8): 822–829.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Caulkins, J.P., A. Hawken, B. Kilmer, and M.A.R. Kleiman. 2012. Marijuana legalization: What everyone needs to know. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- CGA (California Growers Association). No date. Best Management Practices: Northern California Farmers Guide. Available from http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/691078/bestpracticesguide.pdf. Accessed 26 May 2017.
- Chateauvert, M. 2013. Sex workers unite: A history of the movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
- CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). World Factbook. Available from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2219.html. Accessed 20 Feb 2017.
- Conroy, M. 2007. Branded! How the “certification revolution” is transforming global corporations. Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers.Google Scholar
- Crawford, S.S. 2014. Estimating the quasi-underground: Oregon’s informal marijuana economy. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations 36: 118–137.Google Scholar
- Crombie, N. 2016a. Masked intruders hit legal marijuana grow—first violent crime at licensed pot farm. The Oregonian. 29 December. Available from http://www.oregonlive.com/marijuana/index.ssf/2016/12/authorities_investigating_assa.html. Accessed 12 Mar 2017.
- Crombie, N. 2016b. Oregon flags potential problem with popular pesticide used on marijuana. The Oregonian. 15 January. Available from http://www.oregonlive.com/marijuana/index.ssf/2016/01/oregon_flags_potential_problem.html. Accessed 24 Feb 2017.
- Crombie, N., 2016c. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley helps deliver $70,000 marijuana tax payment to Salem. The Oregonian. 30 June. http://www.oregonlive.com/marijuana/index.ssf/2016/06/merkley_and_blumenaur_help_del.html. Accessed 24 May 2017.
- de Moor, J., S. Marien, and M. Hooghe. 2013. Linking lifestyle politics and state oriented action. Paper Presented at the ECPR Summer School on Methods, Florence. Available from https://www.academia.edu. Accessed 7 Mar 2017.
- DEA (US Drug Enforcement Administration). 2017. Drug scheduling. Available from http://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ds.shtml. Accessed 20 Feb 2017.
- Fair Trade, USA. 2016. Fifty-nine percent of Americans now aware of Fair Trade Certified™ products. Available from https://fairtradeusa.org/press-room/press_release/fifty-nine-percent-americans-now-aware-fair-trade-certified-products. Accessed 20 Feb 2017.
- FJ (Farmworker Justice). 2015. US Department of Labor Enforcement in agriculture: More must be done to protect farmworkers despite recent improvements. Available from https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/sites/default/files/FarmworkerJusticeDOLenforcementReport2015%20(1).pdf. Accessed 20 Feb 2017.
- Fooks, G.J., A.B. Gilmore, K.E. Smith, J. Collin, C. Holden, and K. Lee. 2011. Corporate social responsibility and access to policy elites: An analysis of tobacco industry documents. PLoS Medicine 8(8). doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001076.
- FWP (Fair World Project). 2016. Justice in the Fields: A report on the role of farmworker justice certification and an evaluation of the effectiveness of seven labels. Available from https://fairworldproject.org/resources/certifier-analysis/farmworker-certification-analysis/ Accessed 29 Mar 2017.
- Goffman, E. 1974. Frame analysis. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Gomberg-Muñoz, R. 2010. Labor and legality: An ethnography of a Mexican immigrant network. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Goodman, D., M.K. Goodman, and E.M. DuPuis. 2012. Alternative food networks: Knowledge, practice, and politics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Goodwin, M. 2013. Black markets: The supply and demand of body parts. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Gray, M. 2014. Labor and the locavore: The making of a comprehensive food ethic. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Greer, J., and K. Bruno. 1997. Greenwash: The reality behind corporate environmentalism. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
- Gurnon, E. 2005. Environmental scourge of ‘diesel dope’: KMUD Forum seeks to educate public. North Coast Weekly Journal. 10 February. Available from http://www.northcoastjournal.com/021005/news0210.html. Accessed 24 Feb 2017.
- Guthman, J. 2011. Weighing in: Obesity, food justice, and the limits of capitalism. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- HAC (Housing Assistance Council). 2013. Housing conditions for farmworkers. Available from http://www.ruralhome.org/storage/documents/rpts_pubs/ts10-farmworkers.pdf. Accessed Feb 24 2017.
- Harvey, Taylor. 2014. Even in Colorado and Washington, pot on campus is ‘Not OK.’. Chronicle of Higher Education 60 (19): 18.Google Scholar
- Hiller, C. 2015. Just say yes: A marijuana memoir. New York: Heliotrope Books.Google Scholar
- Hilson, G., and P. Kamlongera. 2012. Fair Trade gold: prospects for Africa’s artisanal miners. In Regulation and non-state actors: Whose standards? Whose development? eds. D. Reed, P. Utting, and A. Mukherjee-Reed 277–288. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- HRW (Human Rights Watch). 2012. Cultivating fear: The vulnerability of immigrant farmworkers in the US to sexual violence and sexual harassment. Available from https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/05/15/cultivating-fear/vulnerability-immigrant-farmworkers-us-sexual-violence-and-sexual. Accessed 20 Feb 2017.
- Hudak, J. 2016. Marijuana. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
- Ingold, J. 2014. Marijuana activists lose initial challenge to Colorado marijuana taxes. The Denver Post. 22 August. Available from http://www.denverpost.com/2014/08/22/marijuana-activists-lose-initial-challenge-to-colorado-marijuana-taxes/. Accessed 28 May 2017.
- Ingraham, C. 2015. Forget almonds: Look at how much water California’s pot growers use. The Washington Post. Available from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/26/forget-almonds-look-at-how-much-water-californias-pot-growers-use/?utm_term=.7bd6520820b1. Accessed 29 May 2017.
- ISEAL. 2017. Website. Available from http://www.isealalliance.org/. Accessed 20 Febr 2017.Google Scholar
- Kriesi, H. 2004. Political context and opportunity. In The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements, eds. S. Soul, D. Snow, and H. Kriesi, 67–90. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Krissman, F. 2016. America’s largest cannabis labor market. Provisional profile and proposal for new research, Humboldt State University, Department of Anthropology. Available from http://www2.humboldt.edu/hiimr/docs/MjLaborMarket.pdf. Accessed 2 Jan 2017.
- Lewis, T., and E. Potter. 2011. Ethical Consumption: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Lichterman, P. 2002. Seeing structure happen: Theory-driven participant observation. In Methods of Social Movement Research, eds. B. Klandermans, and S. Staggenborg, 118–145. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
- Linton, A., and C. Rosty. 2015. The US market and Fair Trade certified. In The handbook of research on Fair Trade, eds. L.T. Raynolds, and E.A. Bennett, 333–354. London: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
- Littrell, M. A., and M. A. Dickson. 2010. Artisans and Fair Trade: Crafting development. Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press.Google Scholar
- Low, S.A., A. Adalja, E. Beaulieu, N. Key, S. Martinez, A. Melton, and A. Perez. 2015. Trends in US local and regional food systems: Report to Congress. Economic Research Service Administrative Publication Number 068 for the USDA. Available from https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/ap068/51173_ap068.pdf. Accessed 20 Feb 2017.
- McAdam, D. 1982. Political process and the development of black insurgency 1930–1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Mills, E. 2012. The carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production. Energy Policy 46 (July): 58–67. Available from http://evanmills.lbl.gov/pubs/pdf/cannabis-carbon-footprint.pdf. Accessed 13 Mar 2017.
- Mincyte, D. 2014. Raw milk underground: Status and self-sufficiency in agro-food networks. In Sustainable lifestyles and the quest for plenitude: case studies of the new economy, eds., J. Schor, and C. Thompson, 148–175. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures). 2017b. Marijuana reform marches on. Available from http://www.ncsl.org/blog/2016/11/14/marijuana-reform-marches-on.aspx Accessed 24 Feb 2017.
- NCSL (National Conference on State Legislatures). 2017a. State medical marijuana laws. Available from http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-medical-marijuana-laws.aspx. Accessed 2 Jan 2017.
- NMCLP (New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty). 2012. Human rights alert: New Mexico’s invisible and downtrodden workers. Available from http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Report-FINAL-2013-07-23.pdf. Accessed 24 Feb 2017.
- Nordstrom, C. 2007. Global outlaws: Crime, money, and power in the contemporary world. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- NZPC (New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective). 2017. History. Available from http://www.nzpc.org.nz/about/history/. Accessed 28 Mar 2017.
- O’Hare, M., D.L. Sanchez, and P. Alstone. 2013. Environmental risks and opportunities in cannabis cultivation. BOTEC Analysis Corporation. Project #430-5d. Available from http://lcb.wa.gov/publications/Marijuana/SEPA/BOTEC_Whitepaper_Final.pdf. Accessed 7 Mar 2017.
- OLCC. 2016. Business readiness guidebook for OLCC marijuana operations. Available from http://www.oregon.gov/olcc/marijuana/Documents/BusinessReadinessGuide_RecreationalMarijuana.pdf. Accessed 20 Feb 2017.
- PAN (Pesticide Action Network). 2010. Communities in peril: Global report on health impacts of pesticide use in agriculture. Available from http://paninternational.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/PANAP-Asian-Report.pdf. Accessed 24 Feb 2017.
- Piven, F., and R. Cloward. 1977. Poor people’s movements: Why they succeed, how they fail. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
- Raynolds, L.T. 2017. Fairtrade labour certification: The contested incorporation of plantations and workers. Third World Quarterly. doi: 10.1080/01436597.2016.1272408. (Online Edition)
- Raynolds, L.T., and E.A. Bennett. 2015a. Introduction to research on fair trade. In The handbook of research of Fair Trade, eds. L.T. Raynolds, and E.A. Bennett, 3–23. London: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
- Raynolds, L.T., and E.A. Bennett. 2015b. Part III: The business of fair trade. The handbook of research of Fair Trade, eds. L.T. Raynolds, and E.A. Bennett, 209–352. London: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
- Rich, M. 2012. Lessons of disloyalty in the world of criminal informants. American Criminal Law Review 49 (1493): 1–48.Google Scholar
- Sack, K. 2017. Door-busting drug raids leave a trail of blood. New York Times. 18 March. Available from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/18/us/forced-entry-warrant-drug-raid.html. Accessed 24 May 2017.
- Schirmann, K. 2016. What it’s like to be a ‘trim bitch’ on an illegal weed farm. Vice. 2 August. Available from https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/what-its-like-to-be-a-trim-bitch-on-an-illegal-weed-farm-women-in-cannabis. Accessed 2 Jan 2017.
- Smith, J. 2010. Social movements for global democracy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
- Starobin, S., and E. Weinthal. 2010. The search for credible information in social and environmental global governance: The Kosher label. Business and Politics 3(8). doi: 10.2202/1469-3569.1322.
- Stephen, L. 2012. The story of PCUN and the farmworker movement in Oregon. Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies, University of Oregon. Available from http://cllas.uoregon.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/PCUN_story_WEB.pdf. Accessed 24 Feb 2017.
- Stryker, K., and L. Pennington. 2014. Can porn be ethical?. New Internationalist March: 30–33.Google Scholar
- Sullivan, R., and A. McKee. 2015. Pornography: Structures, agency and performance. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
- Szasz, A. 2007. Shopping our way to safety. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
- Thompson, C., R. Sweitzer, G. Mourad, K. Purcell, R. Barrett, and R. Poppenga. 2014. Impacts of rodenticide and insecticide toxicants from marijuana cultivation sites on fisher survival rates in the Sierra National Forest, California. USDA Forest Service. Available from https://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/thompson/psw_2013_thompson001.pdf. Accessed 24 Feb 2017.
- Tilly, C., and L. J. Wood. 2013. Social movements, 1768–2012, 3rd edition. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.Google Scholar
- Tober, D.M. 2002. Semen as gift, semen as goods: Reproductive workers and the market in altruism. In Commodifying bodies, eds. N. Scheper-Hughes, and L. Wacquant, 137–160. London: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
- US Census Bureau. 2017. QuickFacts United States. Available from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045216/00. Accessed 20 Feb 2017.
- USDA. 2017. Organic market overview. Available from https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/natural-resources-environment/organic-agriculture/organic-market-overview.aspx. Accessed 20 Feb 2017.
- USDOJ (US Department of Justice). 2015. The Departments of Justice and Labor announce expansion of worker endangerment initiative to address environmental and worker safety violations. Available from https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/departments-justice-and-labor-announce-expansion-worker-endangerment-initiative-address. Accessed 2 Jan 2017.
- VDACS (Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services). 2016. National survey on certified organic production shows tobacco as the leading organic product in Virginia. Available from http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/press-releases-160916-nass.shtml. Accessed 24 Feb 2017.
- Voss, G. 2015. Stigma and the Shaping of the Pornography Industry. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Walter, S. 2016. In secretive marijuana industry, whispers of abuse and trafficking. Reveal News (Center for Investigative Reporting). 8 September 2017. Available from https://www.revealnews.org/article/in-secretive-marijuana-industry-whispers-of-abuse-and-trafficking. Accessed 2 Jan 2017.
- Walters, K.M., G.G. Fisher, L. Tenney, and K. Kraiger. 2017. Work and well-being in the Colorado cannabis industry. Colorado State University. Available from http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/PublicHealth/research/centers/CHWE/newsroom/Documents/Work_and_Wellbeing_in_Cannabis_Industry_Kevin_Walters.pdf. Accessed 24 May 2017.
- Weisheit, R. 1992. Domestic marijuana: A neglected industry. New York: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
- Weisheit, R. 2011. Cannabis cultivation in the United States. In World wide weed, eds. T. Decorte, G.R. Potter, and M. Bouchard, 145–162. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.Google Scholar
- WI (Wine Institute). 2013. Wine trade and consumer surveys on sustainable winegrowing. Available from http://www.wineinstitute.org/resources/pressroom/05072013. Accessed 24 Feb 2017.
- Yiridoe, E.K., S. Bonti-Ankomah, and R.C. Martin. 2005. Comparison of consumer perceptions and preference toward organic versus conventionally produced foods: A review and update of the literature. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 20 (4): 193–205. doi: 10.1079/RAF2005113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Zelizer, V. A. 1997. The social meaning of money: Pin money, paychecks, poor relief, and other currencies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar