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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 5:51 AM
Manitopiaaa Manitopiaaa is offline
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Is Southwest Virginia the Next Weed Capital of America?

Southwest Virginia doesn't strike anyone as marijuana country, but I wanted to share an interesting geographic quirk of Virginia and how the marijuana debate in Richmond is playing out with geography in mind.

First is this map below:



Virginia is a unique state in many ways, but the most interesting is it's rather elongated shape. Most people don't realize that Virginia actually holds the national record when it comes to territory distant from the state capital.

Cumberland Gap, Virginia, for example, is closer to 9(!) other state capitals than to Richmond, the capital of the State that governs it.
  • 129 miles - Frankfort
  • 164 miles - Charleston
  • 177 miles - Nashville
  • 201 miles - Atlanta
  • 233 miles - Columbia
  • 234 miles - Columbus
  • 257 miles - Indianapolis
  • 286 miles - Raleigh
  • 329 miles - Montgomery
  • 350 miles - Richmond (actual city that governs Cumberland Gap, VA)
  • 465 miles - Arlington/Alexandria (urban core of Northern Virginia)

This quirk of geography is found nowhere else in the U.S. save the Southwest extremity of Virginia, as you can see above (the red and black shading only apply to Virginia).

The other interesting thing is politics. The center of political power in Virginia is Northern Virginia, a region of 3,160,000 people hugging the Nation's capital. And Northern Virginia is extremely liberal.

So we essentially have a dynamic where Southwest Virginia is being governed by a state capital 350 miles away and whose state legislators are disproportionately from a region 465 miles away.

Why is this also interesting? Because Virginia is legalizing marijuana in the coming days and there's a debate about whether counties should be given the power to ban dispensaries in their jurisdiction. Democrats appear likely to reject that provision, however, and Virginia's geography is the reason.

Southwest Virginia is extremely conservative (Appalachian Trump Country) and Cumberland Gap's parent county (Lee County) voted 84% Trump. It looks like this:



In other words, it's a county that would absolutely ban marijuana dispensaries if it could.

If counties can't deny dispensaries, however, it's quite likely that extreme Southwest Virginia would become home to a number of dispensaries appealing to out-of-state customers.

Here is the map of states that have legalized marijuana (blue). Notice something interesting? Yes, the 9 states whose capitals are closer to Cumberland Gap, VA, than to Richmond all ban marijuana: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia. Further, all 9 of these states have Republican legislative majorities (making marijuana legalization an unlikely prospect in the near-to-mid term).



Virginia, however, is now a Blue state, since the population center hugs the Atlantic Coast and is essentially an extension of the Northeast Corridor. So Virginia is finding itself in a very enviable position: a weirdly shaped progressive state with an unusual appendage that cuts deep into Appalachia. The end result of this could mean that Southwest Virginia becomes a "Southern Capital of Legal Weed."

Another place that will massively benefit is Bristol, Virginia. The left-hand side of this street is the Commonwealth of Virginia (you can see the blue Virginia state flag on the ugly gray building). The right-hand side is Tennessee (you can see the red Tennessee flag interspersed with the American flag down the entire street).



In a few years, you could see a number of marijuana dispensaries to the left-hand side of the street, and nothing on the right. Even worse, given Tennessee's conservatism, you could have police on the Tennessee side waiting to arrest anybody who crosses the yellow line on the road.

Just more state-level craziness!
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 1:23 PM
eixample eixample is offline
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That is an interesting geographic quirk. While SW Virginia is nearer to many state capitols, the question is how many people live within, say, 100 miles. NJ will have more of an opportunity to be a destination shopping location because it is closer to many more people, especially if NY and PA delay significantly in legalizing.

There is one other problem with your prediction. People who use marijuana can usually get it in their home states. And the black market often offers significantly cheaper prices than legal shops, as I understand it. So you'd have to balance legal weed advantages (potentially greater selection?, secure, predictable, and legal purchasing process) against its drawbacks for non-Virginians (increased cost including gas for long trips, risk of apprehension while driving back).
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 2:48 PM
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Any border area has its share of interstate commerce if certain state laws make it economically favorable to cross the line for purchases, so I get the geographic proximity argument. There's nothing new here.

But the distance from state capitals thing... non sequitur
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 3:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Manitopiaaa View Post

!
two things:

1. including DC, we're now at 16 states that have fully legalized weed. that's nearly 1/3 of the states.

strong work america, let's keep it going!


2. that state capital proximity map is very interesting for a map nerd like me. i never before realized that Chicago is closer to Madison, Lansing, and Indy than it is to Illinois' own state capital at Springfield.
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 3:59 PM
Manitopiaaa Manitopiaaa is offline
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Originally Posted by pj3000 View Post
Any border area has its share of interstate commerce if certain state laws make it economically favorable to cross the line for purchases, so I get the geographic proximity argument. There's nothing new here.

But the distance from state capitals thing... non sequitur
It's a symbolic factoid. All the Southwest Virginia politicians are trying to use their distance from Richmond to showcase how they are essentially being 'ruled from distant lands.'

Southwest Virginia isn't still in secession mode since they think Kirk Cox will won the Governorship for the GOP this year. But if that doesn't materialize, I wouldn't be shocked to see calls for joining West Virginia or Tennessee. Most of Southwest Virginia south of Blacksburg already gravitates economically toward Tennessee anyway. Not that secession will ever happen, so I imagine then we'll see a hollowing out of the region (moreso than already the case) as stalwart conservatives move to the adjacent states, all of which are ruby red.

We are seeing some early out-migration of conservatives from Bristol, VA already:
  • Bristol, VA (2010-2019 population change): -6.0% (17,835 > 16,762)
  • Bristol, TN (2010-2019 population change): +1.1% (26,702 > 26,987)

Bristol, VA has lost 6% of its population and Bristol, TN has grown by 1.1%. It's a political sorting. I even have a friend in Kingsport who moved to Bristol, VA, because he wanted to be in a blue state.
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 4:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Manitopiaaa View Post
It's a symbolic factoid. All the Southwest Virginia politicians are trying to use their distance from Richmond to showcase how they are essentially being 'ruled from distant lands.'
Sure, I get the "being ruled from far away" / "out-of-touch politicians" thing.

The issue is southwest Virginia's distance (geographic and cultural) from Richmond, not its closer proximity to Columbus or Indianapolis. The distance to capitals is a factoid, but it's not necessarily symbolic that a part of southwest Virginia is closer to Montgomery than it is to Richmond.

I mean, Reston is closer to Harrisburg than it is to Richmond... is that significant in any way?
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 4:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Manitopiaaa View Post
It's a symbolic factoid. All the Southwest Virginia politicians are trying to use their distance from Richmond to showcase how they are essentially being 'ruled from distant lands.'
sure, but it doesn't necessarily have to be about where the state capital is.

some of the more extreme right-wing downstate illinois politicians frequently whine about wanting to secede as well, and they already freaking have the state capital down there!

it's the great big evil and liberal (same difference in their eyes) chicagoland that they wish to secede from.

so it's not so much about state capitals as it is about power. in downstate illinois, much like i would imagine it is in SW viriginia, it's the sense of political impotence against much bigger, and extremely bluer, urban centers that fuels the secession drive among the ruby red rural folks.
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 4:33 PM
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Southwest VA isn't really that far from the state capital. I'm almost certain that sw VA is not an above average distance from Richmond compared with any other capital from to within jurisdiction. Places like Miami, San Diego, or Marquette, MI, might have actual grievances in that regard.
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 4:56 PM
Manitopiaaa Manitopiaaa is offline
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Originally Posted by Steely Dan View Post
sure, but it doesn't necessarily have to be about where the state capital is.

some of the more extreme right-wing downstate illinois politicians frequently whine about wanting to secede as well, and they already freaking have the state capital down there!

it's the great big evil and liberal (same difference in their eyes) chicagoland that they wish to secede from.

so it's not so much about state capitals as it is about power. in downstate illinois, much like i would imagine it is in SW viriginia, it's the sense of political impotence against much bigger, and extremely bluer, urban centers that fuels the secession drive among the ruby red rural folks.
Yep, Virginia used to be the same.

Northern Virginia (465 miles away) has always been the Great Satan to Southwest Virginia. The mantra used to be that Northern Virginia should be folded with Maryland because it didn't represent "real Virginia."

This was fine from the 1990s through the early 2010s. But then Richmond and Hampton Roads turned blue as well:



Richmond MSA went 57-43% Biden, and Virginia Beach MSA did as well (57-43% Biden).

So instead of Southwest Virginia "saving" real Virginia from the liberal heathens in Alexandria and Arlington, now Southwest Virginia hates Virginia and considers it a lost cause. Now Richmond is also wicked. It's amazing how these 'proud and patriotic' Virginians could flip a switch and suddenly hate their state. Makes me question whether they actually ever loved it. As for them leaving to Tennessee, fine by me!
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 4:59 PM
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^ yeah, i guess the difference in illinois is that the chicagoland/downstate imbalance is so extreme that chicagoland doesn't need help from other metros to politically dominate the state.




Chicagoland without IL: +32.3 Biden

IL with Chicagoland: +17.0 Biden

IL without Chicagoland: +19.0 Trump


so, Chicagoland pulls Illinois a full 36 points more blue.

Illinois would be a solid red state without Chicagoland.
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Last edited by Steely Dan; Feb 2, 2021 at 5:22 PM.
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 6:08 PM
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On the state capitol thing, Miami is closer to the capitols of other NATIONS than its own state capitol (which is over 400 miles away). Nassau and Havana are closer and Georgetown in the Cayman Islands is closer than the driving distance to Tallahassee.
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 6:29 PM
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Lol no one is driving from Ohio to SW Virginia to buy weed. Medicinal marijuana is legal in Ohio, and it would not surprise me at all if recreational becomes legalized in the next few years. Michigan also has legal recreational weed, and is much closer to the bulk of Ohioans than Virginia. Finally, weed is super easy to get already, even with its illegal status. At least in cities like Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland...one does not have to look very hard to find some weed.

Somewhat related though, I have heard claims that hemp is the largest, or one of the largest, cash crops in Kentucky. There are apparently lots of illegal grows in the very isolated and rural parts of the state that more or less go unbothered.
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 10:16 PM
Buckeye Native 001 Buckeye Native 001 is offline
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Can't imagine it's too difficult to grow in Kentucky since they already grow tobacco.

Hell, there was a whole story arc on "Justified" about trying to legalize pot so that it could be cultivated for sale off some land an outsider purchased near Harlan...
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2021, 10:38 PM
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Beyond bringing the wholly-irrelevant distance from multiple state capitals into this odd premise, the glaring issue about southwest Virginia becoming some sort of weed capital for many nearby states is the fact that Virginia is not going to build dispensaries by the border for something that would be illegal at both state and federal levels to transport across state lines.

It's not like buying cheaper cigarettes across the state line or tax free on the reservation.
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Old Posted Feb 3, 2021, 1:48 AM
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A lot of people in the mountains of KY/TN/WV grow their own weed and have been doing so for decades, before it started becoming legal that part of the country was among the tops in the nation for weed production.

My family is from that area and in general you either have people that are ultra religious and would never touch the stuff, or the ones that use it give no shits about the law and will grow their own or know somebody that can get it for them so driving a couple hours to VA will not be an option.

When you get to the more 'normal' areas of KY/TN then the trip IL is easier if you want to make your purchases legally, I have heard of people in Louisville for example making the trip to IL to purchase their product.
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Old Posted Feb 3, 2021, 1:57 AM
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Below is a link for what I mentioned above, marijuana in KY/TN has been a billion dollar industry for a while now and its mainly done in the mountains where it is easier to hide. I'm guessing it isn't as prevalent now since you can do it legally in other places, but it is easy to come by in that part of the world.

https://www.drugscience.org/Archive/bcr2/domstprod.html
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Old Posted Feb 3, 2021, 7:34 PM
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woah -- yeah i just want to see the fireworks on that street in bristol lol.

speaking of that its so weird about tennessee being shy on hemp, given much of it is all about growing 'backy. or just about as much as virginia is. they just need to bring the wacky backy!
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Old Posted Feb 3, 2021, 8:02 PM
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Once we have foreign trade in marijuana production from countries like Colombia and Mexico will crash the price to the point where it will no longer be economically feasible to grow it indoors for sale. At that point America's weed capital will be near the area that has the best terroir for growing outdoors. In the US that is the west coast from north of LA to southern Oregon.

There is also a possibility that most weed will be homegrown. It is relatively easy to grow way more than you need for yourself with a small grow light or simple outdoor grow. A competent home grower would have enough surplus that they could give away a year's supply to most of their friends, every year. Even if only 1% of the people who smoke weed grow their own, it will end up being a lot of weed, even if they are only growing four or six plants at a time.
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Old Posted Feb 3, 2021, 8:07 PM
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Once we have foreign trade in marijuana production from countries like Colombia and Mexico will crash the price to the point where it will no longer be economically feasible to grow it indoors for sale. At that point America's weed capital will be near the area that has the best terroir for growing outdoors. In the US that is the west coast from north of LA to southern Oregon.

There is also a possibility that most weed will be homegrown. It is relatively easy to grow way more than you need for yourself with a small grow light or simple outdoor grow. A competent home grower would have enough surplus that they could give away a year's supply to most of their friends, every year. Even if only 1% of the people who smoke weed grow their own, it will end up being a lot of weed, even if they are only growing four or six plants at a time.
well west coast has the legal jump, but i would guess you can grow hemp anywhere you can grow tobacco, no? hell, wasn't george washington a hemp farmer? i dk for sure, i hate smoking, so not a weed expert. have just received edibles from seattle though, so looking forward to trying that lol.
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Old Posted Feb 3, 2021, 8:18 PM
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Originally Posted by mrnyc View Post
well west coast has the legal jump, but i would guess you can grow hemp anywhere you can grow tobacco, no? hell, wasn't george washington a hemp farmer? i dk for sure, i hate smoking, so not a weed expert. have just received edibles from seattle though, so looking forward to trying that lol.
Marijuana and hemp are not the same in terms of growing conditions. Our hemp strains come from northern Europe and are well adapted to the wet, temperate climates of the eastern US. Modern marijuana is mostly derived from Afghani strains that are prone to mold if grown in an area with cold, wet falls. They do best in the emerald triangle and southern Oregon because the rains don't come until after harvest and the cool maritime climates protect the terpines that give weed its flavors and aroma. Modern strains do best in similar climates as high quality wine grapes.

There are also high quality tropical strains that are acclimated to Colombia (and southeast Asia) that do better in wet environments but those won't finish in temperate climates.
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