Visiting San Francisco after too many years, I wonder why I ever left. This gorgeous, urbane city has become even more beautiful over the years. The old Embarcadero expressway has been torn down, to open up the harbour side of the city for markets, parks, and housing. Ah yes, I left because I thought it would be too hard here as a single parent, and I’d need private schools. I feared slipping into the losing class.
And it has become even harder for the unlanded gentry that populate the graceful bay windowed apartments. Rents are high, but probably not much worse than Canberra or Sydney. There are homeless people camping out in the parks, but no general feeling of threat.
In addition to Chinatown, there is a Japanese sector and a little Saigon. I usually stick to burritos when in California, as it offers an extra opportunity to chatter in my stumbling Spanish. But everyone there speaks some Spanish, including the two old friends I was hanging out with.
What has changed is the creeping legalisation of marijuana. Now there are licensed ‘caregivers’ with state issued identity cards. They are entitled to purchase medical marijuana on behalf of people who can’t get out to the licensed ‘clubs’ to get their own. The clubs are authorised to purchase the green weed, and that makes it possible for the state to get a sniff of the sweet revenue stream wafting up from houses all around the city.
I visited one ‘farm’ in a rented house in the Sunset district. This area has a high Chinese population, but also attracts people because it is close to the beaches (such as they are, excuse my Australian disdain for mediocre beaches).
It also attracts marijuana farmers, as the smells drift off into the ocean and the urban intensity is somewhat muted. Apparently there are hundreds of these farms across the city and thousands around the state.
The interesting thing is not that there are insistent moves to legalise the stuff, as that has been going on since the 1960s. What’s different now is that the state is also more receptive to legalisation, or at least decriminalisation, because of the desperate state of their finances. That applies to many of the 50 US states, of which at least 13 are now allowing medical marijuana.
Considering how many pot-heads there are in California, it could be an open-air experiment in the socio-economic impacts of wide-spread marijuana use. On the face of it, the groovy denizens of this most populous state are no more (and no less) mentally, physically or politically impaired than anywhere else.
One rather shocking revelation was that most of these farms tap into the electrical supply illegally. They cut in beyond the meter boxes, so that the whole street or sub-station area carries the load.
If the smart grid gets instituted and it becomes easier to track down these huge users of electricity, that would cut into profits and push the cost of supplying pot to the clubs highers. It would also expose the illegality to adjustment, while making taxation more viable.
In the meantime, growers and their contractors who tend these crops for cash payment remain part of the black economy.
All food for thought as I roamed the hilly streets of San Francisco, with vistas of bay and ocean from windy parks. Time for a deep breath…..