For people with a capitalistic focus, the essential significance of cannabis liberation is mostly lost. At present, there is primarily a cultural divergence between the business community, and the pro-cannabis society that had been forced underground for the past eight decades. Yet, as the business community assumes interests in the midst of a precarious legalization process, it is not mere economic opportunities that are cause for debate, but foremost the related issues of farming, biodiversity, autonomy, land, community, and health.

“Advocacy groups have created an environment where the business community can step in and change it into a professional atmosphere which is so desperately needed in this industry,” said Dan Humiston, president of the International Cannabis Association, which convened for its second expo in New York City this fall. “We are at the forefront of that in our organization. Our opportunity is to bring the final piece of the puzzle to make this into a legitimate industry.”

Apparently, agriculturalists and property owners showed up in significant numbers at the three-day East Coast Cannabis Business Expo, where 900 attendees looked forward to a future where cannabis is legally available in New York. Among those vying for the enviable license to sell is Ari Hoffnung.

Formerly managing director at Bear Stearns, the potential $400 million in state coffers is flickering headlight for Hoffnung, among other high-stakes early investors. That hefty dollar sign, however, rests on the incidence of legalizing recreational use, not to mention an estimated 100,000 medical patients.

“There’s more opportunity for the small business man in this industry. In the traditional business sense, for growers and dispensary operators, the East Coast is a little bit behind, but moving in the right direction,” said Humiston. “Over the next five years you’re going to see this transition occur. Competition is going to come in and it’s going to push everybody really hard. Now it’s real business.”

One of the most foundational examples of real business happens to be another consumer product, fossil fuels. Marijuana and fuel are at two ends of the spectrum. Marijuana is an emerging industry, while the scientific and environmental community urges the timely phasing out of fossil fuel consumerism within the century, at the latest.

Utah Tar Sands

U.S. Oil Sands is headquartered in the sleek, downtown core of Calgary, Alberta. The office is a close walk from the first wind-powered public transit system in North America. At floor sixteen, a receptionist with the look of a model greets smilingly, offering beverages. Stunning glints of light peak over the canyon photography of Utah at every corner. A visitor has the feeling they are in a travel center specializing in American parklands. Squeezable, foam oranges are placed about in artisan glass bowls.

The president and CFO of U.S. Oil Sands, Glenn Snarr, and corporate development manager Jack Copping are two earnest, polite Canadian fathers. They are the face of ethical oil. At the beginning of an hour-long interview, they openly forewarn against sympathy for the kind of direct activism that led to the incarceration of twenty-five land defenders last summer. “I don't like the big companies. I don't like the status quo. I'd rather be involved in something that's new and exciting and makes a difference to people,” Snarr said, after introducing himself. “We consider ourselves environmentalists, because doing what we're doing is a good thing.”

Utah is the ninth-largest oil producer of oil and gas resources in the U.S. At about 300,000 barrels a day, the industry is comparatively miniscule compared to the over 3 million barrels a day pumped out of Texas oilfields for four straight months in 2014. “A big part of the cost, and quite frankly the environmental impact of greenhouse gas and stuff like that will come from transporting those fuels into the user market,” Snarr continued. “If you want to bring it from Saudi Arabia, then your fuel costs to get it here, you're funding, whatever those programs are funding over there.”

With respect to environmental awareness, U.S. Oil Sands boasts less greenhouse gas emissions than that resulting from the average barrel of oil produced in the U.S. They are in the business of industrial technology, basically remodeling tar sands production in the face of a business scarred by stalwart public protest under the slogan, “dirty oil”.

Due to this very issue, Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline. Greenhouse gas emissions are a very real, global threat, yet Canadian companies, and foreign companies operating in Canada alike, are in the business of fossil fuel resource development.

Simply, the role of the U.S. is to consume. And no one does it better, with the recent exception of China. Climate justice moves the public conscience, yet sadly, more localized issues of immediate industrial impact are often skirted by such companies as U.S. Oil Sands, who would divert their PR argument by focusing on climate change.

Coincidentally, PR Spring is the name for the industrial site where U.S. Oil Sands operates, one of many tar sands areas officially designated by the federal government in Utah. The four billion barrels of oil considered as buried in the entire deposit wouldn’t last 36 hours, according to daily U.S. consumption rates.

“We basically have an area the size of McMahon Stadium [in Calgary], like a football field, if you were to think about digging down that deep, that's about how deep our mine would be, and the size of our mine,” Snarr describes the pit mining and concurrent reclamation process with an excitable pride. “As we start going that way, we fill in behind us. So, the football stadium kind of moves around, as opposed to just gets bigger and bigger and bigger.”

In Alberta, basically, what they do is they take the oil sand, which is exactly what it looks like when it comes out of the ground. They dig it up, you can feel it, it's kind of mushy, and there's oil in there, if you smell it, you'll smell the oil, it's about 10 percent oil.

Typically, in Alberta, for every ton and a half of oil sand, that will yield about a barrel of oil. So, in Alberta, basically what they do is they mix hot water and oil sand, and they mix it up really vigorously.

So that gets the heat right through it, and the oil becomes less viscous, and it allows the sand here to drop out of the oil. And so then you got the sand that falls out of the oil there in Alberta, and you're left with, in Alberta again, you're left with water and oil, and clay fines.

Heavy oil doesn't float. It actually self-suspends because it's about the same specific gravity. In fact what they do is they create bubbles with it on top using caustic soda.

It helps float the oil up, you know, like a cappuccino bubbles on top of your cappuccino, they're coated in oil, floats to the top, and they skim that oil off and they send it off for processing. If you hear the term bitumen froth, that's what it is.

Basically why the tailings ponds in Alberta can't be reclaimed easily is because they won't settle as quickly as the stuff going in them. The effective only difference in what we do is we had a bio-solvent when we add the hot water to the front.

We add the bio-solvent to the hot water and to the oil sand. It allows two things to happen. The hot water allows the oil to become less viscous just like in the Alberta process, but this stuff is a degreaser.

It allows the oil to come off the sand very easily, so we don't have to really vigorously mix it, it allows our sand to fall out of the bottom, our clay fines to settle on top, our water to settle on top of that and our oil to settle on top of that within about ten minutes.

So, there's a 95% reduction in the use of energy to heat the water. So that's major. The sand and fines now have separated out right away, instead of building dikes and dams and tailings ponds in things in Alberta.

So, the truck is doing a loop, one way loaded with oil sand, the other way loaded with clean sand and clean fines. And if it sounds simple, it is. So, all the major companies are trying different kinds of solvents I'm sure.