Only three weeks remain to save the legal cannabis industry in California. The legislative session ends just before Governor Newsom is up for recall on September 14th. His administration has an obligation to do the right thing and fix the state’s adult-use legalization framework, or a plethora of small weed companies will go under.
This would be a tragedy for California as one of its most iconic crops and communities gets driven further underground. The face of California weed is not going to be rugged individualistic hippies or Black and Brown ganja traders in the cities. It won’t be hip hop artists rapping the cannabis creed or other creatives leading the legalization charge, but white men exiting cannabis businesses with golden parachutes, most of whom don’t even live in California.
When Proposition 64 passed in 2016, legalizing weed for all adults, many of us in the cannabis community felt joy and optimism; the ballot initiative received 57% of the vote, which is a landslide in a deeply divided state like California. Finally, we thought, there would be a framework in place to ensure that the legacy cannabis farmer, transporter, and trader could come out of the shadows and into the light. After decades of torture and sacrifice, now we could make our living and run our businesses like everyone else in mainstream society. All this and more was the promise of Prop. 64.
Almost five years after Prop. 64’s passage, it’s time to admit we were wrong. And it’s time to correct the problem once and for all. This wouldn’t be difficult with one-party Democratic rule in Sacramento and a Democratic governor facing recall. You’d think they’d care about the cannabis constituency turning out for recall to vote “no.” However, no real reform has passed this legislative session and the cannabis vote continues to be taken for granted or ignored. There’s still plenty of time to pass reform this session and the urgency could not be greater. It needs to happen before the session ends in about three weeks.
If not, legacy growers and Black and Brown people who’ve been working with this plant for generations will continue to get displaced and irreparably harmed as they get locked out instead of locked up. It’s hard to feel free if you can’t make a living doing the only thing you know how to do. Most of the legacy growers and traders I know are giving up on getting legal, and they’re returning to the underground market. This is the exact opposite of what Prop. 64 was supposed to do.
Prop. 64 has been used as a political football by local and state elites to ban cannabis in most of California, erect barriers to entry that can only be overcome with millions of dollars, engage in corruption during licensing processes, and overtax cannabis to the point of empowering underground markets, making a mockery of legalization. Today 75% of all cannabis transactions happen underground in California. And without significant reform of Prop. 64, it’s going to stay that way.
I was on a small regenerative farm recently and when I asked if digging another pond might help with the drought, the farmer reported that the regulators from the Department of Fish and Wildlife won’t let him. He also reported that the regulators from the Fire Prevention Bureau wanted him to dig another pond so they could use the water if need be. This is only one example of the Kafkaesque absurdity small farmers have to go through to get legal. This farmer has spent $200,000 trying to do it and he’s still struggling to get his permanent licensing as he cuts through a mountain of red tape. The farm has not paid itself in two years, struggling to comply. They are on the verge of bankruptcy.
When you visit this farm and see these outdoor plants all grown organically and naturally, one cannot help but be in a state of wonder. It’s beautiful, clean, natural, filled with wildlife—a healthy ecosystem. It’s the essence of what’s amazing about California. And it represents the true soul of the cannabis community here; a community revered all over the globe for the best weed in the universe.
Are we really going to let farms like this one disappear because of bad public policy that can be easily fixed?
We’ve still got three weeks. It’s time to act. Let’s see if the politicians can find the courage and vision to save the legal cannabis industry in California and ensure small regenerative farms hold their rightful place in the cannabis diaspora. It’s up to them. The people have spoken when they overwhelmingly passed Prop. 64. Three weeks remain to save the legal weed industry in California. Can Gavin Newsom and the Democrats get the job done?