Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Leith Mullings


Jane Schneider

Committee Members

Jane Schneider

Jeff Maskovsky

Don Robotham

Subject Categories

Agricultural and Resource Economics | American Politics | Criminology and Criminal Justice | Human Geography | Law and Society | Political Economy | Politics and Social Change | Rural Sociology | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance


California, marijuana, medical anthropology, Native American, prohibition, War on Drugs


Since the 1996 voter approval of medical marijuana laws in California, marijuana policy has become increasingly liberalized. Producers, however, have remained in the greyest of grey market zones. Federal anti-drug laws and supply-side tactics have intensively targeted them even as marijuana has become more licit. In this legally unstable environment, marijuana patient-cultivators and underground producers have articulated and asserted themselves politically and economically, particularly as the likelihood of full legalization has increased. This dissertation explores how producers navigated the nebulous zone between underground and medical markets. I argue that even as producers supplied marijuana to a formalizing, regulated medical industry they proved trenchantly resistant to government regulation. In the process they carved out new claims on citizenship, well being, property rights, community, and relations to nature. This politics provides an insight into how the emergence of marijuana production into civic life is transforming the political economy of rural and exurban Northern California, a region that has been a historical locus of marijuana production in the United States. More broadly, this politics from the informal-illegal margins offers a unique insight into the role of domestic marijuana producers in challenging the global War on Drugs. As a gateway moment for “the gateway drug,” this dissertation points to the new drug war détente.

Through the Gateway is based on 19 months of participant-observation fieldwork in Northern California, spanning from 2010 to 2014. It is focused on two subregions: the North Coast and the Sierra Foothills. Both case studies are explored in three chapters focused on: the historical entrenchment of marijuana prohibition and production; the destabilization of these systems as producers vied for political voice; and the governmental retrenchment of the War on Drugs. Prior to these explorations, I narrate a legal, medical, and economic history of marijuana and, in conclusion, I explore some of the implications of this study for understanding regional and national political economy, politics of the new peasantry and the informal market, transformations of criminalization and social control systems, and the relation of the War on Drugs to the arc of US global empire.