Popular FX cable network cops and capers series Justified, now in its sixth and final season, currently features a multi-episode storyline revolving around the possible legalization of cannabis in Kentucky, with a highlight on various criminal elements striving for control of this emerging market.
Recent episodes of the series have seen powerful crime boss Avery Markham, played by guest star Sam Elliot, sending an army of goons loaded with cash to purchase vast tracts of fertile farmland in eastern Kentucky that he might use to cultivation marijuana once Kentucky elects to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Markham’s top enforcer, played with cold verbosity by Garret Dillahunt, doesn’t take no for an answer, and has proved willing to terrify or kill anyone unwilling to accept Markham’s offer. The plot is further complicated when career criminal Boyd Crowder, played by Walton Goggins, becomes aware of the scheme and sets out to undercut Markham in an attempt to seize control of the marijuana market in order to legitimatize himself and leave his checkered past as a bank robber and heroin dealer behind.
It is noteworthy that the show takes for granted that its audience will accept that first, the marijuana trade is inevitable and massively lucrative, and second, that the line between visionary investor and murderous criminal is blurred when it comes to the distribution of this particular product.
Many past episodes of the show have featured storylines dealing with the distribution of illegal drugs, but never before have characters acted quite so ruthlessly as they sought to turn those drugs into dollars. Elliot’s character Markham is said to have made a massive fortune in Colorado using similar tactics in the time leading up to that state’s decision to legalize marijuana, and being willing to kill anyone standing in the way of his desire for a marijuana empire is basically accepted as a standard industry technique by several characters on the show.
Clearly there is money to be made in the marijuana market and the spread of legalization for either recreational or medicinal purposes across the United States, but this storyline should serve as a reminder that the obstacles involved with this particular investment go beyond logistics to public perception.
For consumers anxiously awaiting legalization, ready to partake in professionally cultivated product, there are others for whom it is going to take a lot more states passing bills and probably a generation or so before they’ll think of marijuana and picture their friendly neighborhood dispensary and not a plastic bundle stuffed under some t-shirts in a courier’s backpack, or worse, a pile of bodies in the Sonoran desert.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 79, otherwise known as the Kentucky Cannabis Freedom Act, was referred to the Judiciary Committee at the beginning of February. Kentucky Cannabis Freedom Act sounds bold, but all the bill is really set to do is see the possession of two ounces or less punishable by a maximum $75 fine and reduce the charges surrounding the cultivation of up to five plants to a class B misdemeanor; progress for sure, but it might be premature to imitate Justified’s storyline and chase the neighbors off their property.