Pubdate: Fri, 2 Apr 2010
Source: Redwood Times (Garberville, CA)
Copyright: 2010 MediaNews Group
Author: Mary Anderson
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


Local musician and KMUD talk show host Anna Hamilton took center stage
at the Mateel Community Center on Tuesday night for the first public
community discussion of the potential impacts of marijuana
legalization on the community.

Hamilton was assisted by Charley Custer and Liz Davidson of CLMP and
Hum CPR, local blogger and attorney Eric Kirk, California NORML
representative Ellen Komp, and others who media were asked not to name
or photograph when Hamilton laid down the ground rules for the
evening. In addition to the Redwood Times, media present included
KMUD, The Independent, Times-Standard, KHSU, The Associated Press and
the South Fork High School Broadcast Journalism class.

Among those in the audience not minding being named were Supervisor
Mark Lovelace, John Sappler of the County Office of Education, Ahn
Fielding of College of the Redwoods, DA candidate Kathleen Bryson,
Harbor Commissioner Mike Wilson, Rob Aberman representing DA candidate
Paul Hagen, and Democracy Unlimited director David Cobb.

The forum was organized into "stakeholder" groups at separate
conference tables. Hamilton called it a "classroom" format. People
were asked to self-identify themselves as property owners, 215 permit
holders, renters, workers, government, economic development, nonprofit
organizations, business owners, the arts, and growers. The
participants at each table were instructed to have a discussion and
fill out a questionnaire.

Hamilton began with her own agenda, which she said, is "to establish
that the economy of black market marijuana is the biggest economic
force in our region" and affects every aspect of local society. She
said her desired result was that the stakeholder groups form a
coalition of "mutual interests" and devise strategies for survival
after the collapse of the marijuana bubble economy, which she
predicted would be the greatest catastrophe in the history of the area.

She also made the point that although there are "greedy growers,"
marijuana cultivation has crossed all social and cultural lines.

Hamilton said she thought between 15,000 and 30,000 people in Humboldt
County would be displaced by the legalization of marijuana.

"We need a regional economic impact analysis," Hamilton said. How and
who would conduct such an analysis was not addressed.

The price of pot was very much on the minds of many participants. The
price has already dropped from its peak and is back down close to
where it was when marijuana was first grown for sale in this area. In
the discussions at the various tables, some people thought there ought
to be "price supports" for marijuana farming that would keep incomes
at the levels to which many growers have become accustomed. There was
even some support for "buying" a legislator or two who would look out
for the interests of pot farmers.

Some argued that the growers themselves should be allowed to set their
price. Others noted that the old economic rule of supply and demand
was determining the price. As the price has dropped, growers have
increased the size of their crops, which in turn has led to more
supply and even lower prices. Some suggested that could be solved by
forming cooperatives or guilds where allocations were controlled to
keep the price at a certain level.

Mendocino County was said to be ahead of the curve as growers in that
area have already organized themselves into a trade group. The
Mendocino Board of Supervisors is also thought to be ahead of the
curve in its efforts to support price stability in the wake of
legalization. Humboldt, on the other hand, was seen as falling behind
the curve and in danger of being left behind.

There were advocates for developing value-added marijuana products
from plants grown here and those who wanted a strategy that would
"transition to an economy where the price of marijuana is not inflated."

There were mixed feelings among the participants about the pending
initiative to tax and regulate marijuana that will be on the June
ballot versus the Ammiano bill (AB 2254 introduced by State
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco). Ammiano's bill is still
under consideration in the California legislature. Several people
wanted to see legal marijuana regulated under the wine industry model,
complete with labels and tasting rooms. It was suggested that
developing a legal industry along those lines would be good for the
tourism industry. Others opposed that model and preferred regulation
along the lines of the alcohol industry. A third option in some minds
was a system based on the tobacco growing industry.

Komp said that the Ammiano bill was currently dormant but would be
revived if the initiative passed in June, something which seems likely
as a recent Field poll found it has 56% approval from voters.
According to Komp's handout on AB 2254, a Zogby poll found that 58% of
voters believe that marijuana should be taxed and legally regulated
like alcohol and cigarettes, which would be done under the Ammiano
bill. Some of those opposing the Ammiano bill do so on the basis that
it takes control away from the grower and introduces regulation for
the heretofore outlaw industry. Komp said she thought the budget
crisis was driving the California legislature's interest in
legalization. They are looking around for tax money to support
government services that are now being cut.

"Branding" was a word used by many participants. When Hamilton called
for "branding" Humboldt weed, she got strong applause. There were
concerns expressed that outsiders might usurp the rights to the
Humboldt brand if locals don't move quickly to claim it. Cobb was
enthusiastic about the branding idea and said there was a lot of
interest in certification for being sweatshop-free, organic, grown in
the sun and fair trade designations for marijuana. He thought a niche
market could be developed for the "Humboldt brand."

Many people were dismayed that the indoor marijuana growers have
managed to brand their product as being better than outdoor marijuana,
especially for 215 patients. Some suggested that a campaign of public
education about the toxic substances used to grow marijuana indoors
might restore the reputation of sun-grown pot as a superior product.
Branding was seen as a way to keep the price as high as possible.

"If you're growing it for money, you're growing it for the wrong
reason," a lone voice of dissent said. "We're all circles and we don't
fit in with the squares," this individual added.

"Marijuana was the gift that came to use to live the lifestyle we
wanted," another participant said.

As the discussion was winding down, CR's Ahn Field told this reporter
that she had come on behalf of education and economic workforce

"There's a lot of training needs, both for the workforce and the
growers, identifying what skills might be needed for a shifting
economy. You will have a lot of people who want to establish
businesses that may be related to the legalization of marijuana. There
are a lot of opportunities beyond a degree or certificate to building
a business."

Supervisor Lovelace said that he thought marijuana cultivation got its
start in Humboldt because it could be hidden from view. Legalization
would remove the need to hide it and in that case, he said he expected
an "outmigration" of growers to locations in California's agricultural
region. He said that, from the discussions he's had about legalization
at the state level, the feeling is that it's easier to have it
legalized than to continue in the current situation.

"I'm here as a supervisor and consistent with my role on the Medical
Marijuana sub-committee," Lovelace said. "This is looking at
legalization, which is a step further than what we are looking at with
medical marijuana. We're still playing catch-up with medical marijuana
and 215 14 years later. This is an attempt to say that there are
changes potentially coming down the line and let's get ahead of them
and be proactive on the issue."

A representative of the Redwood Region Economic Development Council
was also at the meeting. She said that with the prospect of
legalization, that group is "ramping up" its general understanding of
the impact legalization will have on the county's economy.

Notably absent at this meeting was law enforcement, the other major
player in the marijuana cultivation story. Law enforcement stands to
lose a good portion of its budget if marijuana becomes legal. The
impact on the courts that prosecute marijuana cases was also not
mentioned or discussed. Someone did ask about the possibility of
people already in jail for cultivating being released. No one was
certain about that. Bryson indicated she could see that issue going
any number of ways.

At its peak, about 150 people either participated to some extent in
the discussion or stood on the fringes observing. Hamilton said there
will be another such event and that the Mendocino growers groups and
government representatives will be invited to that.

Another, similar meeting I attended in the early 1980s at Beginnings,
was called in response to the onset of the Campaign Against Marijuana
Planting (CAMP). At that meeting, the participants were looking for
ways to protect their crops from the CAMPers. After a long afternoon
of discussion, a young Bonnie Blackberry suggested that legalization
was the best way out for marijuana growing. Her idea won overwhelming
support. Now that the time has apparently come when pot will be legal,
some may be having second thoughts. 
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