Pubdate: Thu, 04 Jun 2015
Source: North Coast Journal (Arcata, CA)
Column: The Week in Weed
Copyright: 2015 North Coast Journal
Author: Grant Scott-Goforth


Just about every name in North Coast weed was there, packed into a 
sweaty, crowded theater for a glimpse of California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Selfies with the photogenic former San Francisco mayor weren't the 
only reasons Garberville's Redwood Playhouse was standing room only 
the afternoon of May 29 - it was the first substantial outreach from 
Sacramento's power players to Humboldt's 
splintered-but-increasingly-vocal marijuana growers.

Newsom was flanked by local stakeholders, politicians and members of 
his Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, a 21-member panel 
consisting of, as he put it, experts both advocating for and 
vehemently against pot.

Garberville's forum was rowdy but overwhelmingly upbeat. Rhys 
Williams, Newsom's communications coordinator, said the panel has met 
in Oakland and Los Angeles to hear from the public and stakeholders, 
and that Garberville (population 913) had the biggest turnout. He 
later offered a hat tip on Twitter.

Newsom, Congressman Jared Huffman and Assemblyman Jim Wood started 
the morning at Wonderland Nursery before piling into Newsom's black 
SUV and heading into the hills for a tour of a father-son pot farm. 
Press - at least the Journal - was turned away. San Francisco 
Chronicle reporter Joe Garofoli - photographer in tow - apparently 
tagged along with the entourage, but, four days later, the paper 
hadn't published anything about the tour.

Newsom didn't say much about that portion of the visit, simply that 
he visited a father-son farm and a nursery that was an "impressive 
operation by any objective assessment and standard."

Williams told the Journal that they chose the Chronicle for an 
exclusive because it was Northern California's "paper of record" - an 
indication that the 350 miles between the Bay Area and the Oregon 
border is still lost on Sacramento - and because he didn't want to 
turn Newsom's "solid policy fact finding mission" into a "travelling 
media show."

But members of the panel got an earful from the hundreds of folks 
that turned out to ask questions and give feedback about the 
potential - and by all accounts inevitable - state legalization of 
marijuana in 2016.

The crowd booed when Huffman used the word "trafficking" and recoiled 
at "marijuana" - cannabis is the preferred term, one commenter said. 
But the mood was generally jovial, with Huffman and Newsom in a 
full-on charm offensive.

There were cheers and resounding applause for wildlife biologist 
Mourad Gabriel, who said, "We are probably in consensus here that 
trespass marijuana cultivation is not acceptable;" for a member of 
the public who decried the dangers and litter associated with butane 
hash extraction; and for Newsom, who warned of the big money 
influences already appearing in Sacramento in regards to marijuana 
legislation. "With respect," Newsom said, "they're writing a lot of 
you guys out and we cannot let that happen."

The panel, co-led by Newsom, a former White House drug policy advisor 
and the executive director of the ACLU of Northern California, is 
preparing a report to be released in July that Newsom hopes will 
guide the groups that are working to put a legalization measure on 
next year's ballot.

The report, Newsom insists, will not be prescriptive - as in it won't 
necessarily make recommendations about possible legislation - but it 
will seek to inform initiative writers about the many, many 
technicalities and ramifications of legalization.

Among those: taxation, regulation, public safety, education, prior 
convictions, environmental protections, DUIs, advertising - the list 
goes on, and each category yields dozens of subtopics.

Every meeting, Newsom told reporters after the forum, brings up new 
concerns and challenges. One of the biggest distinctions to come out 
of the Garberville meeting, he said, was the notion of revenue share.

"If you're going to allow that tax to be at the retail, that's going 
to disproportionately benefit big urban centers at the expense of 
rural communities, especially the six counties up here," he said.

Another major decision for initiative writers is selecting a 
regulatory agency. Mere mention of the Alcoholic Beverage Control 
during the public forum drew hisses from the crowd, and Newsom said 
that agency is already overworked and understaffed. And he 
understands the resentment, saying marijuana discussions are 
overlooking state agencies. "It would be very helpful to allow us the 
opportunity to engage the bureaucracy, so to speak, to help inform 
this process because they're the ones that are going to be 
responsible for implementation."

Newsom poked at Sacramento - both to reporters and in the public 
forum - but it's unclear if that was calculated approachability for 
the SoHum set. After all, Newsom is a savvy politician, and made a 
name for himself as a young mayor of San Francisco who pushed the 
envelope on gay marriage and marijuana. (He's also gearing up for a 
run for governor in 2018.) But he certainly knew the right things to 
say that day, chiming in to respond to public speakers at times and 
letting others on the panel fill in the gaps.

"I love that this forum opened up with the word trust," he said 
following the meeting. "How can you trust Sacramento, that hasn't 
been able to get their arms around the medical restrictions since 
1996, to get their arms around a legalized system?"

Luke Bruner of California Cannabis Voice Humboldt helped arrange 
Newsom's tour of Wonderland and the farm. "They were pretty blown 
away," Bruner said. "When they woke up that morning I don't think 
they thought their day would end in that way. ... I doubt most 
fact-finding trips are that much fun."

Surprised as they may have been, Bruner said the visitors were 
prepared - they'd researched the issue, and were asking the right 
questions. "They came up here with an open mind and wanted to check 
this out and learn about this," Bruner said. "I think when they said 
they're here to defend small farms I think they meant it."

That remains to be seen. Newsom's panel meets in Fresno to discuss 
taxation the day this issue of the Journal comes out. An initiative 
being written by the Drug Policy Alliance is gaining steam. Others 
are likely, if not certain, to appear - a point Newsom was careful to 
mention. "There's a lot of money out there," he said. "There is no 
quote unquote draft that is the consensus draft of those powerful 
groups with a lot of resources behind them."

And while Gov. Jerry Brown's most noteworthy comments on marijuana in 
recent years poked fun at potheads, Newsom said it was Brown, as 
California's attorney general, who gave San Francisco cover to sign 
its citywide medical marijuana legislation. "It wouldn't surprise me 
that he leans into [legalization] tomorrow," Newsom said. "It 
wouldn't surprise me if he doesn't lean into it 'til after November 2016."

Finally, Newsom said, there's a lot to be learned from the states 
where legalization has gone into effect. But that doesn't mean 
there's a one-size-fits-all answer to be found there.

"Those states have nothing to do with California as it relates to 
this issue," Newsom said. "It can't be Colorado-lite, or 
Washington-heavy, or Oregon-esque or Alaska-ish. It has to be 
uniquely Californian."

If that means anything, we're in for a good fight.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom