Warnings that marijuana legalization was a “Trojan horse” for corporate cannabis were dismissed as nonsense from the fringe, but a recent development allowing for massive cannabis farms has pushed three California lawmakers to step forward to decry the state’s new regulations.
Prop. 64, the voter initiative that legalized recreational marijuana for all adults 21 and over in California on Election Day 2016, was supposed to be the sort of bill that appealed to all stakeholders in the cannabis industry.
So carefully constructed and thoroughly vetted was Prop. 64, the promises went, that this legalization would not only attract endorsements from the political world’s most electric luminaries and campaign cash from the richest backers, it would also scratch every itch among the citizens — assuaging fears of stoners, soccer moms and city councils alike.
No small feat. But the bill’s proponents also said that legalization would correct some of the drug war’s most brutal injustices and create new economic opportunity. It would give law-abiding adults a lawful vector for cannabis access, while protecting children. (Indeed, that exact promise was baked into the campaign committee’s official name: “Californians to Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana While Protecting Children.”)
And, importantly, Prop. 64 promised to preserve and protect the livelihoods of longtime clandestine pot farmers, whose willingness to run great risk (in exchange for significant profits) created the foundation for the capitalized cannabis farms in business today.
It’s still far too early to tell if most of these lofty promises will be fulfilled, but initial feedback indicates that at least some of the fears of Big Pot were justified.
Two key lawmakers representing Northern California’s historic marijuana-growing counties have declared, unequivocally, that the landscape as it stands clearly favors “big corporate farms” over mom-and-pop outfits.
Though retail sales of recreational cannabis began on Jan. 1, it took until November 2016 for key state agencies to release rules for how that process would transpire. And according to State Senators Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), as well as Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s emergency regulations for marijuana cultivation contain a loophole that allows for cannabis plantations of unlimited size.
One of Prop. 64’s key promises was that large-scale marijuana cultivation would not begin until 2023, the first year licenses for unlimited marijuana farms would be issued. The CDFA’s emergency rules allow for “medium” farms of up to one acre in size, and “small” farms no larger than one quarter-acre. A single entity can only hold one medium license at a time, but there’s no restriction on how many small licenses an entity can hold.
This is a “loophole” that, in theory, allows for massive, Big Ag-style grows — and since Big Ag dominates commercial agriculture everywhere huge grows are allowed, the fear is that cannabis is ripe for a similar takeover.
It’s also a “broken promise,” McGuire told the Los Angeles Times, and exactly what Prop. 64 was supposed to avoid.
“For two years, every discussion has included a cap on cannabis grows and the Department of Food and Agriculture needs to fix this massive loophole they have created,” he told the paper. “This last-minute revision rolls out the red carpet for large corporations to crush the livelihood of small family farmers.”
The lawmakers and the California Growers Association, the main lobby for marijuana farmers in California, want the loophole fixed before permanent rules take effect sometime next year.
It’s not clear whether this is an oversight or a deliberate move taken to appease powerful forces with influential lobbyists, but this is absolutely an “I-told-you-so moment” for some of Prop. 64’s most fervent critics — from within the cannabis advocacy world, including lifelong legalization advocates who agitated against Prop. 64 from the beginning.
Cannabis advocates have long been skeptical of corporate takeovers and legalization measures, with worries that companies like Monsanto would be eager to dominate a legal cannabis industry. (Much of the basis for this contention is the fact that George Soros, the alt-right bête noire and billionaire bankroller of the Drug Policy Alliance and California’s medical-marijuana law, Prop. 215, is also a Monsanto shareholder.)
A few weeks before Election Day last year, the world was treated to the bizarre sight of the country’s leading anti-marijuana organization, Project SAM, on stage with the leaders of cannabis advocacy groups including Weed for Warriors, slamming Prop. 64 at a press conference in San Francisco.
In WFW’s case, the organization’s position hasn’t wavered — and developments like the removal of the acre cap make their warnings of a creeping corporate takeover harder to deny.
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