California Assembly member Jim Wood and State Senator Mike McGuire demonstrated their incompetence before a standing room only crowd on March 1, 2018 in the Ukiah Valley Conference Center. Wood and McGuire hosted the hearing which was titled “The First 60 Days of Prop 64.” Members of the audience, as well as many of the panelists, agreed that the first 60 days were a failure. Or maybe they were a huge success. It all depends which side of the banking industry one sits.
Ever since Prop 64 became law on January 1, 2018, the marijuana world in the Emerald Triangle has become, increasingly, the domain of big growers with big capital and big political clout. Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner, Tony Linegar, who formerly served as Mendocino County Agricultural Commissioner, told the crowd, “If the overall goal of the program was to favor a corporate, big dollar, new money industry then we have succeeded.”
Pot growers from Covelo to Comptche and Caspar, and from communities in Humboldt and Sonoma, conferred among themselves and agreed that in order to comprehend the marijuana story one had only to omit the little word “If,” and say “the overall goal of the program was to favor a corporate, big dollar, new money industry.”
Linegar had predicted that outcome more than a year ago. Indeed, the cumbersome governmental process and the high cost of permits and licenses were guaranteed to favor the big boys and cut out the small players from the lucrative market.
“It doesn’t matter much what the politicians and the agency people say,” a long time, small-scale grower from Potter Valley explained. “What matters is what they’ve created, and what they’ve created is a mess for us.”
One newspaper, which sent a reporter to cover the hearing, ran a headline that proclaimed, “Small pot growers feel stifled.” The real story wasn’t about feelings. It was about the bottom line, pocket books, bank accounts and plans for the 2018-growing season. Indeed, the state of California had, in the first 60-days, sabotaged the marijuana industry that had, on the whole, done quite nicely on its own for decades, without taxation and regulation.
Put government employees in charge of an industry and a plant that they know little or nothing about, and one is guaranteed to come up with a plan that’s not only unjust, but also unreasonable and non-sensible.
Linegar drew cheers and applause from the crowd when he said, “I see no reason to regulate this crop differently than any other crop.” His was not the only voice of reason on the panel, but it was the loudest, the clearest and the least ambiguous. To a large extent, the other panel members patted themselves on the back, paid homage to “Beautiful Ukiah” and thanked the audience for braving the rain, as though a little weather would keep growers at home.
There was no end of pandering, patronizing, politicking and threatening. “I want to commend you on the wonderful job you have done,” Jim Wood told Lori Ajax, the California cannabis czar. Ajax explained that the state would go after growers who didn’t have permits and licenses, and that those citizens who didn’t like cannabis in their neighborhoods could “report suspicious activity” at “Weed Tip.” She also insisted that her agency wanted “to run the system efficiently,” though she said nothing about compassionately. In the interests of efficiency, the state would be opening eleven locations where growers could remit their taxes in cash and by-pass banks entirely. It was clear that the state wanted the money.
Hezekiah Allen, the Executive Director of the California Growers Association, said that he saw a “mockery of the values of compassion and justice.” He added that many people in the marijuana community were “at the breaking point,” that “prejudice was cooked into the policy” and that a “crisis was looming.”
At the very end of the evening, Assemblyman Wood redeemed himself in part when he complained that farmers were unable to sell legally to dispensaries and that there might be “the collapse of a whole industry because there was no product.” What law enforcement had failed to do, legalization and regulation had to a large extent succeeding in doing.
Welcome to the state of near-permanent crisis that exists in California.
(Jonah Raskin is the author of Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War)