The hour-long panel, “Tips for Making Money in the Newly Regulated Market,” took place in the Hall of Flowers at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. It was the second day of the 2018 Emerald Cup, the cannabis extravaganza, that brought together thousands of players in the industry who had come to gawk, talk, get stoned and swap tales of life in the “regulated” market.
None of the panelists or the moderator had “tips” for making money in the cannabis market, which changed dramatically when “adult use” became legal in California on January 1, 2018 and state and local government officials started to collect money and enforce onerous regulations. It's been a bad, sad, mad year for growers, as nearly everyone in the industry—especially “small farmers” in Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma— has known for months.
Hearing the bad news at the fifteenth annual Emerald Cup made it sound official. Tina Gordon, a board member with the International Cannabis Farmers Association, told the audience at the “Tips” panel to “be comfortable with the uncomfortable.” Indeed, government regulations and the cannabis bureaucracy have made life not only uncomfortable but also miserable for farmers who once made a good living on the black market, where they were also subject to arrests and rip-offs.
Most of the growers who were busted or robbed bounced back. Bouncing back isn’t as easy these days. The “Tips” panel moderator, Kristin Heidelbach-Teramoto, summed it up when she said, “Survival is what it’s all about.” A fifteen-year veteran with the Teamsters Union and currently the head of the Teamsters State of California Cannabis Division, Heidelbach-Teramoto didn’t hog the mic, but rather kept it moving from one panelist to another.
Mendocino County’s Max Meyers, a cannabis grower and educator, said, “Free up the knowledge, don't horde it.” He also offered practical suggestions about soil, water and ecological cultivation, though no tips about making money. Near the end of the panel, Tina Gordon told the audience, “I don't know how to solve the banking thing.” No one did, though nearly everyone at the Emerald Cup was buying or selling something, including cannabis, which was consumed right then and there.
Arthur Darling came to the Cup from San Francisco to continue the journey with marijuana that he started in the 1960s and that led him into the worldwide “drug culture,” to which he still proudly belongs. “Before I was a hippie, I was a beatnik,” Darling told me. “And before that I was a bohemian.” Now 78, he remembers his days at the Oracle, the San Francisco underground newspaper, his time in a commune called East West House, his friendship with Janis Joplin before she became famous and the drugs he took to flunk his physical exam for induction into the military, which kept him out of Vietnam.
Darling wasn’t stoned all the time, or if he was it didn’t stop him from working at all kinds of jobs, including dishwasher, baker, carpenter, electrician and plumber. Arrested a couple of times for possession of marijuana, he went to jail and didn’t moan and groan about it. “I think my story is in many ways also the story of my generation,” Darling told me. It was indeed.
Hezekiah Damian Allen, the former Executive Director of the California Growers Association, now has his own consulting firm, HDA. “I moved to Sacramento from Humboldt several years ago in the hopes of bridging the gap between rural California and the state government,” he told me. “I’m in rescue mode and trying to make the best of a bad situation.”
Tina Gordon spoke for a great many growers when she said, “We're here to stay. We won’t be uprooted.” Sadly, the Emerald Cup has lost much of the pizzazz it had during pot prohibition, but Arthur Darling was still curious after all these years, and it was uplifting to learn that the Teamsters were involved in the cannabis biz. Too bad Jimmy Hoffa isn’t still around to lend Emerald Triangle farmers his heft.
Jonah Raskin is the author of “Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.”