Truth and Change in Northern Cali as Cannabis Goes Mainstream

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In life, there is only one guarantee: change (i.e. nothing is guaranteed). Not to be confused with Obama’s ambiguous change campaign, the change we are speaking of is the social kind. Transcendentalists beware universal truth is subject to Cartesian doubt. Truth and meaning can only be understood through differences – relativity – meaning and truth are always subject to change depending on ones viewpoint. As the French postmodern social-theorist Jean Baudrillard would argue, through power and technology, we are seduced into believing we can understand the minutiae of human life, an understanding of universal reality and values (as used by politicians and police to make and enforce law). 

However, this “universal reality” is nothing more than simulations from the past – an agreed upon reality that became false the second it became “universally understood.” In other words: because of our constant movement through time and space – social location – and because all meaning exists in a web of semantic distinctness, truth is an ever moving target. The moment “truth” becomes isolated from social, spatial, and temporal movement it ceases to be true. Depending on time, space, and an individuals’ standpoint, truth constantly changes, and therefore universality, Truth, reality, society, and value are impossible to reconcile.

Deep shizz… but to get to the point… if truth (reality, society, etc) is always changing then our values are always changing. Going deeper… let us think about the values we have all come to universally accept as true. Foregone values from the past, the same values that policy and law were created under and still enforced. Under what pretence (social located truths) were these laws establish and created (i.e. cannabis law)? There are many layers of complexity associated with creating policy – and policy inevitably favors some groups over others. When it comes to the history of cannabis policy, this statement couldn’t be more relevant. Throughout the history of cannabis prohibition there are many examples of old ideas (simulations from the past) that influence the policy and law of the present.

For instance you may notice a propensity by HU to use the scientific term: cannabis. This is because the term marijuana was not widely acknowledged until Harry Anslinger used it to connect the cannabis plant to those considered outsiders during the 1930’s (mainly folks of South American descent, Beatniks, Hippies, and African American musicians). Throughout history the media and our government has connected cannabis use and cultivation to outsiders of mainstream America in order to make cannabis seem like an alien threat – a marijuana menace. In fact, using the semantic variation marijuana and acting upon mainstream anxiety, Anslinger was (and has been) able to institute almost a century of cannabis prohibition (still being fought today).

Antiquated systems die-hard… Fast forward to the first 15 years of this century and cannabis is still being connected to poor and minority groups. As Michele Alexander explains in the New Jim Crow, drug law (cannabis law included) is disproportionally enforced upon poor minority communities. And once an individual is convicted of a drug offense they become a second-class citizen much the way Jim Crow laws affected African American communities prior to civil rights movements. Once convicted of a drug offense (mostly marijuana believe it or not), offenders face increased scrutiny from law enforcement, difficulty finding gainful employment, loss of financial aide, and lose the right to vote in some states. We can see that Anslinger’s ideas die-hard – his notion of reality (the marijuana menace), existing as a simulated view from the past, fabricated in its conception, is still affecting cannabis enforcement today.

Here in Humboldt, a poor-rural-libertarian/buku-liberal (almost redneck/hippie) community, cannabis cultivation is as common as strawberry cultivation. It goes without saying; cannabis is as normal as apple pie – and handing out felonies for cultivating our regions delicacy seems as outdated as Anslingers reefer madness. What seems even more outdated is the provision in California SB 643, which is waiting to be signed into law, that provides that those applying for cultivation licenses can be denied based upon prior controlled substance convictions. This during the same month that Ohio (yes, O-hi-o) initiated a ballot measure to expunge all past cannabis related offenses. In fact Oregon is already pushing to expunge all cannabis related offenses. This is a hot legal topic as the ACLU and NAACP are working to ensure cannabis felons can obtain licenses to cultivate cannabis.

Yes, California passed much needed medical cannabis regulatory framework (thumbs up) and this new regulatory framework will help many medical cannabis providers avoid arrest, but what about those who were arrested and tried prior to the passage of these senate bills (SB 643, AB 243, AB 266). Prior to the passage of these new medical cannabis bills, Prop 215 and SB 420 only established an affirmative defense for medial cannabis providers who were collectively cultivating cannabis. Essentially police would arrest at will and providers were told to “tell it to the judge.” Their money was taken, homes ransacked, mug shots put in the paper (and on the internet), and children taken to protective services. On top of all this – if they couldn’t produce the necessary documents, hire an attorney, or fight-the-good-fight – they would be convicted of a felony.

Prop 215 was passed in 1995 (initiated in 1996), today its 2015, and finally, California has a comprehensive medical cannabis regulatory framework (it still must pass Governor Moonbeam). I had a pager on my hip and Matt Williams and Barry Bonds were on the Giants when medical cannabis was legalized. In the same time period it took California’s elected officials to pass a regulatory system for medical cannabis we’ve seen two wars, witnessed the crash of our economy, the LBGT community can now marry, and those Giants won three World Series titles! Over those 20 years medical cannabis proponents were left out to dry. Many had to fight tooth and nail to gain recognition – this was a battle fought in the courts and not everyone got off clean. To exclude those who took up the fight when most were too scared to risk their record, seems like a co-opting – a mainstream take-over. Anyone remember names like Eddy Lepp and Matt Cohen? These are two advocates of the industry, blazing a trail, but they’ve been languishing in federal prison for what they believed was legal cannabis cultivation: civil disobedience. Here at HU, we feel it is important that these individuals have a place in the legal cannabis industries for which they sought.

With this being our first reaction to the passage of SB 643, AB 243, AB 266; let’s not jump to conclusions just yet, there is an exception for those who have been convicted of cannabis related crimes, but it amounts to a lot of hoop jumping.

In all, the new medical cannabis provisions essentially create more fees, red tape, taxes, and hoops; it’s the normal function of our government. Most of the concern from the cannabis community regarding SB 643 is directed toward our government’s exclusionary approach to medical cannabis. Folks seem generally concerned about the narrowing of the scope in regards to who can obtain a medical recommendation, who can recommend cannabis use, who can obtain a license to cultivate, transport etc, and who can enforce cannabis law. However, the new law must appease law and order politicians, officials, and police (as they were stakeholders in the process). This is what government does, regulates and appeases the majority, interjecting special interest when possible. The law had to walk-the-line between federal directives and legitimizing the “good apples” in California’s massive medical cannabis industry. In fact the law seems largely unwritten and many steps still must be taken toward hammering out the details and gaining compliance with California’s 20-year-old medical cannabis industry.

And this fight isn’t over; medical cannabis big wigs like Mr. DeAngelo aren’t convinced the law is a positive step. Besides the felony exclusion clause, which Stevie D feels will only bolster black market cannabis (because of exclusion of entrenched cannabis cultivators), Mr. DeAngelo also feels that discrepancies with SB 420 will be too great to resolve. Changes to his collectives’ business model (Harborside Health clinics) is an issue Don DeAngelo doesn’t take lightly – after all he has been fighting local government and the feds for more than a decade now.

Hezekiah Allen of Emerald Growers Association has a different view – an insiders view. He was apart of the lobbying process and endorsed AB 243, which focuses on the needs of the North Coast. Mr. Allen writes:

“The policy is not perfect but the relationships that were forged combined with a strong and fair framework represent the best possible outcome. This legislation will provide immediate relief as we begin to tackle the crisis that has been damaging California’s communities, waters, and independent business owners for years. It will help provide some sanity on the eve of the expected 2016 ballot initiative.”

He goes on to highlight that new legislation will (1) regulate cannabis like agriculture, (2) ensure license for small and medium cultivators, (3) specify licenses for indoor/mixed/outdoor farms, and (4) establish appellation controls. These are important first steps for the North Coast because it’s the first time our needs – rural needs – have been heard: our region has been recognized as a player in cannabis legalization. If we read between the lines we can see that Humboldt, Emerald Triangle, and the North Coast have gained some power over cannabis legalization (Bay Area based Don Stevie D may not like this).

Delving deeper, as was called upon by Frenchy Canoli (and noted in the Underground Review 9/1), Emerald Growers Association must set standards – much like Napa and Bordeaux wine regions – that cannot be met by large-scale producers. For those-not-in-the-know, Emerald Triangles main concern (in regards to legalizing cannabis markets) is a mainstream takeover by big corporate agriculture. The fear is – as highlighted before – that legalization that doesn’t (1) regulate cannabis like agriculture, (2) ensure small and medium farms, (3) create different licenses for indoor and outdoors grows, and (4) set up appellation controls will lead to corporate takeover by outside interests. The irony is that regulation – for which our industry has been weary – is what will save the small cannabis farms of Northern Cali. For most of us existing in the grey medical cannabis muck of the last 20 years, regulation has always been viewed with hostility – regulation is government meddling… But in Napa and Bordeaux wine regions, history shows a different path… The government working with growers associations of farmers have kept Napa and Bordeaux wineries family owned in addition to keeping prices at a premium, due to higher standards of production. The government of these regions have recognized the needs of the small artisanal farmers and wine producers, and thus passed legislation to protect their respective regions delicacy. This is what SB 643, AB 266, and specifically AB 243 open the door for: a way for North Coast artisanal cannabis farmers to produce a superior product and preserve our community and environment for years to come.

With that said HU is willing to bet that these laws will be amended and fought in court the same way Prop 215 and SB 420 were fought. Looming cannabis legalization is a potential game changer. Solvent policy as truth is always a moving target, the fight for the right to cultivate cannabis continues. Buckle up and hold on for the ride… Yet for every hoop California’s cannabis industry jumps through we become ever more legit, however don’t-rest-on-your-laurels, whether its government or rent seeking big business, Northern California will have to fight to keep our industry where it is – in the hands of the farmers.


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