Pubdate: Thu, 04 Jun 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: ChemTales
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts

Small Cannabis Told Gavin Newsom What the State's Weed Industry 
Wants. Will They Get It?


Before shaking hands with the political establishment, most 
small-town chambers of commerce will dress to impress. To meet 
California's most electric politician last Friday, the entrepreneurs 
and workers in the heartland of the country's fastest-growing 
industry donned Carhartt work jeans and wide-brimmed sun hats, in 
some cases still dirty from the morning's work in the family cannabis 
patch - their version of "business casual."

That was fine with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. For his daylong visit to 
Garberville in remote southern Humboldt County, he was dressed down, 
too, having swapped his suit with trademark open-collar shirt for a 
pullover, jeans, and sneakers. He'd just come from a tour of a 
marijuana garden himself, and was now ready to present an 
unprecedented opportunity to the crowd of 200 farmers, hash-makers, 
and edibles bakers stuffed into a small community theater: to listen 
to what they had to say about legalizing marijuana, the basis for the 
local economy.

All of this direct engagement with once and current outlaw farmers 
was unthinkable 20 years ago; it's simple retail politics today. 
Newsom was joined in the visit to Garberville by U.S. Rep. Jared 
Huffman (the "official" host of the proceedings, who was quickly and 
hopelessly eclipsed) whose district, stretching from Marin County to 
the Oregon border, includes tens of thousands of marijuana farms, big 
and small, legal and illegal.

Huffman recognizes that he needs these people's votes to stay in 
office - and Newsom, the state's highest-profile supporter of 
legalized recreational cannabis, is counting on their support to help 
him succeed Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018.

This is why he's positioning himself as the marijuana industry's 
advocate, angling to be the "voice" for cannabis farmers in the 
buildup to next year's expected legalization ballot initiative, he 
told the Eureka Times-Standard.

What that voice will say is yet to be determined. Newsom chairs a 
21-member American Civil Liberties Union panel. In less than two 
months, that panel will issue "recommendations" on how to best move 
forward with legalizing marijuana in California. Garberville's 
meeting follows public meetings in Los Angeles and Oakland; there was 
a fourth meeting in Fresno earlier in the week.

The ACLU recommendations may end up on the ballot in 2016. They also 
might not. There might not be any ballot initiative at all, a growing 
possibility that is oftentimes neglected in the stampede to cash in 
on the state's latest "green rush."

It's at least clear that attitudes in the Emerald Triangle, the 
nickname given to California's pot-producing counties, have shifted 
sharply. There's a half-serious separatist movement in this area. And 
on the flag of the "state of Jefferson" are two X's to represent a 
"double-cross" by distant politicians who take in tax revenue and 
provide little in return. But when Luke Brunner, a well-known local 
activist with the advocacy organization California Cannabis Voice 
asked the crowd, "Who here wants to pay their taxes?," all the people 
in the room raised their hands.

Five years ago, when the state had the shot to be the first in the 
country to allow recreational cannabis for adults, bumper stickers 
reading "Keep cannabis illegal" were popular here. There were fears 
that legalized marijuana - a pound could fetch $2,500 on the medical 
market - would lead to a price crash and end the best economic times 
here since logging was king. So cannabis was kept illegal, and prices 
crashed anyway, to $1,100 a pound or less. Nobody wants to see that, 
not even local law enforcement. The problem is that nobody in power - 
not Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey, and not Huffman or Newsom - 
wants to preserve the once-hallowed status quo. "It's not working," 
Newsom said. "It's untenable."

In the meantime, nobody in power in California has done much to make 
things easier. "We have a Legislature that does not want to engage 
this issue," Downey said.

Just how far apart lawmakers are from their cannabis-producing 
constituents became clear when the meeting's first conflict broke out 
- - over what word to use for the cash crop.

Newsom and Assemblyman Jim Wood, the local representative in 
Sacramento, took heat for using the word "marijuana" - which, some 
attendees reminded the VIPs, has its roots in 1930s anti-Mexican 
reefer madness. Wood said he'd try to remember to use "cannabis," but 
offered his own caveat: In Sacramento, where the rules on 
recreational marijuana must somehow be crafted, nobody knows what 
"cannabis" is, let alone what to do about it.

Fights are already brewing. There's legislation in Sacramento that 
may finally put a state agency in charge of California's mostly 
unregulated billion-dollar medical marijuana industry. That agency is 
Alcoholic Beverage Control. But putting the booze police in charge of 
weed is a "repugnant" deal-breaker for most growers, as 
third-generation Mendocino farmer Casey O'Neill put it.

For a moment, the confusion and uncertainty took a back seat to 
Newsom's undeniable star power. In Newsom's presence, men listened, 
attentively and jealously - one VIP half-joked that having to follow 
Gavin was like "following Moses" - and women "swooned," as the 
popular Lost Coast Outpost put it. He was here, he said, because, 
"You don't know anything until you've been to Humboldt." Wild applause ensued.

Later, holding court with reporters from across the state, Newsom was 
more reticent. There's no timetable on drafting legalization ballot 
language. There's not even certainty as to who will write it - or if 
it happens at all in 2016. There are just questions - and one tall 
politician, surrounded by admirers in Carhartts, smelling faintly of terpenes.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom