20,000 Pack The Emerald Cup

It was a party.

It was a giant smoke-in — near the vast 215 medical cannabis area.

It was a music and food fest.

And it was a venue for some very serious panels on medical cannabis cultivation, treatment and legalization issues.

The 2015 Emerald Cup at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds Dec. 12 and 13 drew 21,000 people who bought seeds, tried new strains, watched demonstrations, learned about irrigation, water filtration, soil amendments and more.

Laytonville farms including HappyDay, Swami Select, Rusty Shovel and Guerilla were among the many locals selling their medicine as was Laytonville-based collective Mendocino Medicinals. Many local farms sold under the banner of the local co-op called Emerald Grown.

Jackson Zenter, aka Mean Jean of Laytonville, won top bud for “Cherry Limeaid,” a flower described as sweet and fruity, albeit with a “paint thinner and Bain de Soleil” essence, according to one media report.

A breakfast of more than 200 on Sunday at the Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa, hosted by California Growers Association, looked liked a cannabis whose-who society pages from Mendocino and Humboldt counties. Among those with big smiles were Casey O’Neill and Amber Cline of HappyDay. Justin Calvino of Mendocino Policy Cannabis Council was deep in conversation with Luke Bruner, business manager of Wonderland Nursery and a co-founder Host of California Cannabis Voice-Humboldt. Hezekiah Allen, executive direction of the CGA, moved from table to table welcoming friends and CGA members.

Back at the Cup, despite the upbeat atmosphere, tempers flared at several well attended legislative panel discussions, particularly at Saturday evening’s debate on the Adult Use Marijuana Act (AUMA), dubbed by some the Sean Parker initiative after the Napster and Facebook billionaire backing it.

AUMA would legalize recreational cannabis use for adults if passed by voters in 2016.

Here’s how California NORML summarizes AUMA:

“AUMA is a lengthy, 62-page initiative which elaborately writes hundreds of detailed restrictions and regulations into state law. Its basic thrust is to (1) allow adults 21 years and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use; (2) regulate and tax the production, manufacture, and sale of marijuana for adult use; and (3) rewrite criminal penalties so as to reduce the most common marijuana felonies to misdemeanors and allow prior offenders to petition for reduced charges. AUMA’s regulatory provisions are largely patterned on the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), recently passed by the legislature and effective Jan 1, 2016; licenses for medical and adult-use would be distinct.”

The skirmish Saturday evening started when Emerald Cup founder and executive director Tim Blake, who was in the audience for the AUMA debate, stated his intention to endorse AUMA.

San Jose activist Kevin Saunders rose to his feet, shouting, “Your credibility is at stake. One ounce! Six plants. This is a giveaway.” Saunders was referring to AUMA’s personal possession and cultivation limits.

After a hostile exchange, Blake ordered security guards to remove Saunders. Attorney and panel moderator Matt Kumin dashed from the stage to assist in Saunders’ removal.

The flare-up reflected the widespread concern among cannabis policy makers as to whether AUMA forwards greater acceptance for cannabis use or creates too many new regulations and penalties, putting more people in jail and fostering a statewide mishmash of local laws. AUMA, like the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, signed into law this year by Gov. Brown, allows counties and cities to create their own initiatives, including the right to ban adult recreational use.

“Balkanization,” was how panelist David Hodges described the effect of allowing local governments the right to write their own laws.

Still, many cannabis advocacy groups, including a number that once opposed the Parker initiative, are now throwing their support behind it, in part, it appears, because AUMA is the only initiative that has enough money behind it to win.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and the Drug Policy Alliance are among those that have recently endorsed AUMA.

“It is not perfect. It doesn’t give us everything,” said panelist and California Cannabis Industry Association Director Nate Bradley, a former law enforcement officer. “It doesn’t remove all the crimes. But it reduces crimes. We are not going to get everything all at once. We can change this law in the State Legislature.”

But critics, including panelist George Mull, said the problem with voter initiatives is that they are extremely hard to change or amend once passed. Nonetheless, by the end of the evening, he and David Hodges begrudgingly admitted they would probably support AUMA if it is the only recreational-use initiative on the 2016 ballot.

(Jane Futcher is the host of The Cannabis Hour on KZYX FM, Mendocino County Public Broadcasting.)

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