In 2015, almost twenty-five years following the passage of Proposition 215, California passed the Medical Marijuana Legislation and Safety Act, in an attempt to better manage the commerce. The next year, under the terms of the recent law, Humboldt County’s board of supervisors passed its first cannabis business news property ordinance. Gellman was one of the very first to ever submit an application for a permit under the new system, despite controversy one of his friends. Some farmers at Humboldt County saw the new regulations as being a snare. They feared that even attending an information session would indicate turning themselves. Gellman talked of their or her own decision to go legal in the conditions of the embittered end of quite a long war. “I’ve had a great life,” he explained. “I don’t want to go to jail. I’ve seen too many of my friends go to jail.”
Gellman believes the county has used the permitting process as A justification to correct the mistakes of a multi-generational libertarian experiment. The back-to-the-landers hadn’t contemplated building codes if they constructed their domiciles and out-houses and catchment ponds and solar grids. “Everything they’ve always wanted us to do–permit stuff, fix roads, get our wells all done right–they had us,” Gellman said. To comply with rules regarding water use, generator noise, fertilizer storage, and road maintenance, farmers had to seek the services of consultants, attorneys, and engineers. To adhere to environmental protections for spotted owls and marbled murrelets, that they had to hire a birdwatcher” to come and sit at your house and look for a bird for four thousand dollars,” Gellman said. (The ordinance calls for anyone applying for a permit to create in a”qualified biologist” to conduct”a disturbance and habitat modification assessment” on the property, partially in response to pressure from local environmental groups.) The farmers complained that the county was sucking them dry and putting an essential percentage of the neighborhood market at risk from the process. Ford reported that older logging roads have been not meant for everyday usage, and diverting water from streams to cannabis fields takes a toll on the surrounding ecosystems. He also framed the conflict as, a cultural one, between your government and even a team of people who had always avoided it. “Those are the normal costs to anybody,” he said.
And then, in the middle of this, Proposition 64 passed.
In the lead-up into the 2016 overall election, Californians Registered more than twenty-five ballot suggestions to legalize marijuana. The one that made it to the November ballot has been that the Mature Use of Marijuana Act, or Proposition 64, whose success had been due in part to the backers: Sean Parker, the creator of Napster and former president of Facebook, along with George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist, were major donors, as were a committee funded by the dispensary-finding app Weedmaps, and also a business which invests from the cannabis-news internet site Leafly. In the Republicans’ guide for the election, the campaign advertised”rough, common sense regulations” so that marijuana would be”safe, controlled, and taxed.” Supporters of the measure projected tax revenues of a billion dollars.
They are resisted Proposition 64. Cannabis farmers told me that they opposed the legislation because it included high licensing fees and a fifteen-per-cent tax rate on cannabis purchases, which would discourage growers from leaving the black market and put those who did at a competitive disadvantage. It bothered them that three million dollars of the tax revenue would go to the California Highway Patrol, an old nemesis. But their primary worry was that the law did not do enough to protect legacy farmers from getting undercut by new agribusiness entrepreneurs. Proposition 64 created the conditions for”a land rush for wanna-be drug-dealing VCs,” Norberg told me. “Plus they’re available.”
Measures intended to protect small- and medium-scale farmers, such as a one-acre limit on cultivation for the first five years of legalization were quickly undercut. In the aftermath of the law’s passage, the state announced a regulatory loophole that has allowed single entities to acquire as many small-scale licenses as they want. The bill also mandated the industry of intermediaries; cannabis farmers could no longer sell their product directly to medical collectives or retail outlets, and, instead, had to work with a licensed distribution company.
Several large agricultural companies began laying the groundwork to grow cannabis on an industrial scale in advance of statewide legalization. As of January 2019, Santa Barbara County had received more cultivation licenses than Humboldt, most of them acquired in the dozens by large commercial farms. Prices started dropping, from more than two thousand dollars a pound, three years ago, to sixteen hundred dollars a pound, in 2017, to less than a thousand dollars a pound, last year. In Humboldt, farmers had spent their savings coming up to code, only to end up with licensed and legal weed that they could no longer off-load, now that the market was oversupplied.
In the wake of pot legalization, Humboldt farmers found themselves facing two options: they could try to operate in the legal market and risk bankruptcy because of the related costs, or they could remain in the black market, which was being pushed ever further underground. Humboldt County officials estimate that only a third of the county’s marijuana cultivators have attempted the permitting process. Local growers describe their neighbors who have chosen to avoid domestic and state permits as participating in the “unregulated,” conventional,” or”free people’s” markets.