No, it’s not the end of cannabis in California. Not yet. Farmers and gardeners will be able to grow and harvest their own plants, if the weed isn’t for sale. From now on, however, the bulk of cannabis in the state will probably belong lock, stock, and barrel to the giant cannabis corporations, many of them located in the Central Valley, some operated by former counterculture types. That outcome seems likely unless the California Growers Association (CGA), the largest statewide organization of marijuana cultivators, prevails in its lawsuit against Sacramento. Tai Olesky — who was born in Humboldt and who grew up in Sonoma County — serves on the CGA, along with 50 or so other Californians from around the state. Olesky sounded an alarm only days after the CGA filed a lawsuit on January 23, 2018. “The original understanding, when Prop 64 passed, was that there was to be a limit on big, commercial grows,” Olesky told me. “The regulations released last November didn’t include a cap on the size of an operation. Nor were caps in place when recreational sales began the first of this year. We had to sue to protect the industry."
Olesky thinks that if Sacramento doesn’t change its game plan, the fall-out will be disastrous, not only for small and medium sized growers in Mendocino and Humboldt, but for the whole region. “If the state doesn’t create limits on big grows the impacts will be catastrophic,” he said. “The whole North Coast economy will suffer and a whole culture will be lost.”
“What are people going to do?” he asked. “Go back to logging and fishing. Marijuana is all that's left.”
When Olesky looks at legal cannabis in Oregon, he sees a market that’s already saturated, though the state is still giving out licenses to cultivators. “They care about taxes, not about the growers who will be bankrupt,” he said. When he looks at Sonoma County, he sees much the same picture. The city of Santa Rosa, he points out, has been issuing licenses, not because it cares about cannabis patients, cannabis medicine and small growers, but because “it’s a money grab, with exorbitant fees and taxes.”
As a citizen who leans toward the libertarian viewpoint, Olesky doesn’t think that taxes and fees are the answers to the cannabis conundrum, though he’s not sure where to turn for solutions. “The whole cannabis issue will end up in the courts,” he said. "Meanwhile, there’s a race to the bottom. People in the industry are eating each other up.”
At the age of 41, and after a lifetime in and around cannabis in northern California, he says that almost everyone he knows is involved in the business on some level. "Not to have protections for small growers is a real travesty of what voters wanted when they approved Prop 64,” he said.
For years, Olesky owned and operated Mosaic, an up-scale restaurant in Forestville, until the market crashed in 2008 and he lost 50% of his business. Now, he makes and sells organic soils in bulk to marijuana growers and to owners and managers of vineyards and orchards. "Biologic Crop Solutions” is the name of the business. The website says, "Grow More, Go Green, and Pay Less with liquid biological amendments and high-quality organic materials. We also offer consultative services and client-specific programs for landscape, agriculture, and horticulture.”
Olesky isn’t ready to close his shop. “I don’t think I’ll suffer economically if and when the small growers go under,” he said. “The big growers want organic soil for their plants. I think I’m in good shape.”
He added, “I’m not normally outspoken about politics. But fuck it! Now’s not the time to bury your head in the sand. The people who have been in this culture for decades, need to get a break before the whole industry is swallowed up by the Wal-Mart’s and the Amazon’s of the world.”
(Jonah Raskin is the author of Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.)