Cornell, as a land grant university, has a responsibility not only to pursue knowledge but also to apply that research to affect positive change in the world. Situated in upstate New York, the University has an even deeper responsibility: to help a region that has long suffered from a 50-year population decline and decades of hemorrhaging job losses to rebuild its economy congruent with the emerging industries that will shape our global marketplace.
When CNBC replays hour-long documentary specials on “Marijuana Inc” for over a year, detailing the profit making potential of industries that have not yet been fully imagined, we can reasonably predict that the cultivation, sale and marketing of marijuana products and services will be one of those emerging industries that reshapes our global marketplace in the very near future. As a land grant university, Cornell has an obligation to be at this forefront.
With our renowned agricultural school, its botanists, horticulturists and soil scientists, coupled with the Cornell Cooperative Extension — just imagine the bud that we can grow together. Due to innovation (critical to the competitiveness of any industry), our research laboratories can engineer the best seeds across a broad pallet of differentiated product. The sale of those seeds could rebuild an endowment still badly beaten by the global financial collapse. The Cornell Cooperative Extension could train local growers across the State. Like the Finger Lakes wine industry, which Cornell is responsible for cultivating since the 1970s, we can once again reshape the landscape of upstate New York while creating jobs, small businesses, tourism and — gasp! — an export industry.
As a matter of habit, I enjoy contemplating high-potential business concepts and then writing the business plans that can bring those concepts to fruition, despite the obstacles that may need to be overcome. We can all imagine the existing business models that can be applied to this decreasingly illicit, decreasingly illegal industry: a fruit of the month club; wine trails; a commodities exchange; e-bay; and the traditional coffee shop.
Impossible, one might argue. But legality is only a tool that serves the fluctuating interests of the state. The globally integrated financial markets are, indeed, the de facto system of global governance that will shape legality. Not only will the global financial markets dictate resource allocation, it will also shape both legal and social norms to allow for activities where profit making potential exists—so long, of course, the pursuit of that profit does not conflict with the governing interests of the state. Although marijuana was criminalized decades ago, in large part, because the government was afraid that it would too profoundly upset the puritanical social norms that shamed individuals into conformity, we’re now in a very different place.
Now, the interests of the state are very much aligned, three-fold. First, when nearly 13 million people are unemployed and 9 million are underemployed, the masses need to be contented simply to maintain political stability. Does anyone know of anything more contenting? Second, our nation is — largely — devoid of export industries, and we desperately need to cultivate new wealth generating industries and products that can bring new capital to our shores. Our manufacturing industry, having long collapsed, is nearly non-existent, which should be a point of extraordinary and immediate national concern. Third, given our multi-trillion dollar national projected deficits, we desperately need new tax revenues.
Cornell can play a catalytic role that would benefit our endowment, Upstate New York and even America.
Perhaps I’m inclined to support such boldness from the University because my mores are, let’s just say, far from prudish. But — at the very least — we can all agree that, like Cornell’s famed “Wines” class, we need a “Weeds” class as well. We need to be prepared for a globally competitive marketplace, under all of its eventualities. And, I say these things with only the slightest bit of satire.
Uncle Ezra, I hope you’re listening.
Matthew Ricchiazzi ’08 is currently a second-year MBA student at the Johnson School of Management. He can be contacted through his website,
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