[Canniseur: The author of this article is a well known long-time grower in … well, if we told you … As a former illegal and now legal grower, she does raise some fascinating points. We usually only remember the good things when looking backward, but there was a lot of bad. Now, former illegal growers during the time of cannabis prohibition have some really valuable things to say and the young growers seem to be listening. There’s hope yet for quality.]
It’s easy to complain in these dark days of the emerging legal cannabis industry. There seems to be no limit of negative stories about how the combination of state and county taxes and regulations are bringing us down and, that as a result, the corporate giants may take over the cannabis world. As we witness the demise of so many of our colleagues’ brands and businesses, it is tempting to hide our heads in a pile of weed and cry for the good old days.
But wait a minute. Who’s to say we won’t be yearning for the present times in the future? I have no doubt that exhausted gold miners back in 1850 often kicked themselves for leaving comfortable homes in other parts of the world in their quest for treasure in the mountains and rivers of California. The difficulties they encountered as they eked out meager quantities of gold dust, while living in hardscrabble conditions, make our lives look like Easy Street. Yet I can guarantee that 30 years later, as they drank champagne in elegant San Francisco drinking establishments, they yearned for the “good old days when we were simple miners.” Time has a way of glorifying the past and burning away the hardships.
Yes indeed, we can reminisce for hours about being cannabis outlaws and about how easy it was to grow it, dry it, trim it and stick it in a plastic bag and sell it right away. No taxes, no fancy packaging, no rules and regulations to fret about. Yet how easy it is to forget the stress that came along with living illegal lives, with never being able to fully be ourselves when out in public. We humans tend to see the past through rose colored glasses, ignoring the daily anxieties when they don’t fit into the perfect picture. In retrospect, life was pretty darn good. Even though we were pioneers, we certainly had it easier than the forty-niners. Plus we had the bonus of getting high on great weed. But honestly, life back in the early days of growing cannabis certainly had its challenges.
Likewise, right now as we struggle through this quagmire of new regulations, we have challenges that seem overwhelming. However, I am not the only one who is starting to feel a slight let-up in the doldrums of daily issues. Or maybe more realistically, we are just becoming familiar with them and learning how to cope in a more relaxed fashion. As more time passes, I trust we will adjust to the new system and hopefully new and better ones will fall into place. Before long, we’ll be fondly remembering the good old days right after legalization in 2018. “How innocent we were,” we’ll chuckle with knowing smiles.
What at present may seem like a tremendous burden becomes a glorious memory as time passes. The few of us craft farmers who are still standing in this business are already reflecting on what we have been through and how we have made it this far. “Remember that year they changed the packaging wording three times?” We are the pioneers of the legal cannabis business in California. We are the core group of tenacious companies dedicated to surviving and committed to sharing the best of the best with the rest of the world. We are still riding the roller coaster. We’re in for the long haul and proud of it.
So while we may be bitching today about adapting to the changes, I have no doubt that in the future we will be bragging about it. Already journalists come to the survivors asking for stories of the transition to being legal. Documentaries are being made and cannabis museums are opening in a few places across the state. We are history, while we continue to make history and the world wants to know the stories.
It’s quite an odd feeling, one day you are a young and vital member of your community and in the blink of an eye you become a “respected elder.” How did that happen? I often wonder if those wonderful fellow outlaw/grower friends who are no longer in their bodies were still alive, what would they think? So many stories are lost with them. Nevertheless, it is up to us to carry on as best we can and tell our own stories.
To that end, a group is beginning to form here in the Emerald Triangle, spearheaded by the indomitable Pebbles Trippet. To quote Pebbles, who has been a peace and cannabis activist since the early 60s, there is a need for “An elders council of the cannabis community that embodies the knowledge of the whole derived from decades of experience from the underground. By gathering that knowledge, we can better prepare for the unknown future.”
What is especially heartwarming are the younger folks nurturing the process. They recognize the value of the lessons to be garnered from the elders. Thanks to people from the younger generations, such as Casey O’Neill, Jenn Procacci and Phoebe Smith, a few gatherings have already been held with ideas and stories shared. This feeling of respect for all is definitely part of the “good new days” and a great step into a bright new future.
[Canniseur: The good old days: Illegal growers would bring bud into the shops that were quasi-legal. Some of these growers still go out and meet their customers. They visit not just the budtenders and shop owners, but the end consumers too. Swami and Nikki want to stay connected. Maybe this is something all growers should do.]
Back in the “OG days,” as we’ll probably fondly recall the time before legalization, one of my greatest joys was bringing in a turkey bag full of flowers to our urban dealer friends, or later to the buyers at emerging dispensaries.
First, we’d have to “run the gauntlet” as driving the weed down the highway from ranch to the city was known. That was one part paranoia, one part hyper-awareness of the road and one part transcendent confidence. But once we got to the dealer friend or the saw our friends at the dispensary, it was always so worth it to open up a big bag of luscious buds and let the thick terpenes fill the air with delicious scents from the garden. “Whoa” was the usual response, as delighted friends would put their whole head into the bag and breathe deeply.
We used to love going into places like Harborside in Oakland, one of the oldest dispensaries around, and the staff would be thrilled to see us. “Oh boy, we’re getting some Swami bud in here!” they’d exclaim, and it always felt so good. We’d hang around the sales room and meet happy customers. It gave us the opportunity to hear what they used cannabis for, what strains they liked the best and so much more. We’d meet other farmers dropping off their products and remain friends with some of them to this day. It was all so canna-familial.
We knew, of course, that things would change with the advent of Prop 64, and as of Jan. 1, 2018 indeed it has. Now it is the distribution team who delivers cannabis flowers, carefully packaged in fancy glass jars, to the stores. I speak with the buyers primarily by phone or over the internet. Such is life in 2019. But that is why it is so important to schedule in-store meet and greet sessions to get face to face with our customers. This is how we stay current with the real beat of what is happening in cannabis, and it is so different in various parts of California.
Swami and I are on the road a whole lot these days, experiencing parts of our state that I didn’t even know existed. A couple of months ago we were in Riverside County to visit Green America, a dispensary in the town of Perris. The landscape in this part of Southern California is reminiscent of old Wild West movies with barren, rocky hills dotted with scrub brush. I expected to see the Lone Ranger ride by smoking a fatty. Well, there must be a lot of stoners living in the region, because the store is doing great and new ones are sprouting up like desert flowers after a rainfall.
In out-of-the-way places like Perris, real farmers from the famed Emerald Triangle like us are a rare sighting. In more urban settings, the budtenders and the clientele primarily meet sales reps from the various companies who set up a table in the sales area to show off their product lines. But Swami and I enjoy doing it ourselves as much as possible, and customers are always surprised to meet us actual farmers. We explain to them how the plants grow, the process of harvest and the benefits of growing in full sun with organic methods. In a few stores there are even attached smoking lounges where we can share a smoke with the customers, which is always an extra treat.
We’ve met yogis and mystics, bikers and soccer moms. Sometimes seriously ill people come in to ask us about what cultivar is best for their symptom and to get a blessing from Swami. One well-dressed senior woman recently spoke with me while her husband was purchasing some flowers to take home. “I don’t like to smoke it,” she expressed matter-of-factly. “Sometimes I will enjoy an edible, but mostly I like speed.” What? I thought I had heard her wrong, but she continued, “It’s so easy, I’ve been getting diet pills from my doctor for years and it’s just my thing.” Well, as they say, whatever gets you high … but I pray she moves on to cannabis instead.
On our display table, I like to set up an altar to Ganja Ma, the goddess of cannabis, to create a sacred tone and be a conversation starter. Swami also has begun to offer meditation sessions at some stores, which is proving to be a real bonus to all of us. Most people arrive after partaking in some cannabis, so they are in the perfect headspace to get even higher via meditation and chanting. We are so fortunate to live in California, the home of conscious consumption and higher living. The place where Timothy Leary boldly declared at the first Human Be-In in 1967: “Tune In, Turn On and Drop Out.” These days, we may all need to function under lots of rules and regulations, but the ethos remains the same.
Some shops are slick, some are funky and a few are spectacular. In fact, it’s a whole new profession to be a cannabis store designer. Clearly some take their cues from Apple stores, such as MedMen, while others are much more comfy and welcoming. So much of the vibe depends on the budtenders and sales staff.
Turns out the budtenders may be the most important link of all, from farmer to consumer. They need to be knowledgeable and patient and compassionate. They need to be the sommeliers of cannabis and know which cultivar that they carry is best for each customer’s needs. There even is an annual Budtender Awards ceremony held in Las Vegas to honor the best of them. Whenever we visit stores, we make sure to meet them and share stories and welcome them to our ranch for further education. Many have never seen a big girl plant growing in full sun, flowers stretching towards the sky! And when they do, it often changes their minds about outdoor versus indoor weed.
We are all part of a large cannabis community, and it is growing every day. It’s a blessing to be a part of this pioneer movement and to get out and be with the people. After putting nine months of love and care into cultivating fine flowers, it is a bonus to meet the folks who end up enjoying their many benefits. As they say, it’s a whole process, from seed to sale, and we relish being a part of every step along the way.
[Canniseur: A delightful paean to the only way to smoke cannabis…or at least used to be the only way I liked to consume cannabis. Pipes can be pretty nice as well. But joints started it for me and for many others I know.]
It has been over two months now since I smoked my last joint, which for a serious smoker like me is a very long time. Almost a record — only broken by when I was in certain countries where the option was serious punishment (Indonesia) or it simply it was not available (China). I smoked my first joint in 1969 and it was love at first hit. Cannabis has been a constant companion ever since.
The good news is that it clearly is not addictive, as I have never suffered any uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. The sad news is that I miss her terribly! Yes, I can get high in other ways… but there’s something special about smoking a joint. A lot has to do with the fact that it slows us down and that is a blessing for all of us considering the busy lives we lead. At least twice a day, Swami and I would sit down and take our time over a big fatty. Between the time it takes to roll it (craft it really, in the case of a “Swami Joint”) and then leisurely smoke it, we’d have at least half an hour to chill out and be together.
Joints have been my therapy, I admit. My personality type would be on the go 24/7 if it were not for the “safety meetings” that force me to slow down, take a break and enjoy the beauty of life. To be with my friends and family and literally stop and smell the terpenes. Communal joint smoking and sharing is the stimulus of many a fascinating and often funny conversation. It is a time to observe the beauty around us, whether in nature or not. Through the dense smoke, visions of alternate realities appear which just don’t happen when consuming in other ways.
Photo courtesy Swami Select
When I was diagnosed with moderate COPD in early April, I vowed to fight it and prove wrong the “chronic” part of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. To that end, I quit smoking completely right after 420 and promised myself I would not resume until I felt better and was able to consider vaping. I have loyally been dosing myself with high CBD oil in the daytime and high THC oil before bedtime, with the belief that they will break down the scar tissue formed on my lungs. I have faith and that is a great foundation, but my condition also requires patience and finding other ways to get high.
Usually, around 3 p.m. I’ll eat some edibles, about 10 mg is a good dose for me just to take off the edge. I might do that again around 7 p.m. to ensure a mellow evening. I never get too high to not work on projects, which in the cannabis business never stop. Hence, I am missing those safety meetings and time outs to gather calmness around me. Edibles are a personal thing, not a shared sport like passing a joint. Where’s the fun in that?
Once I start to try out vaping methods it may be a little different, but it’s still not a joint. I have been doing research on several styles of vaporizers which work with flowers, as I choose to avoid smoking the oils completely. While some are super cool and cooling on the lungs, I’ve yet to find one that can hold more than two to three hits at a time. For most smokers that might be enough, but I am a veteran and have a super high tolerance, I admit. We’ll see if I can find the balance with a vaporizer to keep up with Swami while he’s smoking a traditional joint. Human nature is innately adaptable, so I trust the balance to filling my vaporizer while he keeps smoking his joint will be found.
Photo by Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now
Interestingly, I have found that I am not alone. Several people have confided in me that they also need to stop smoking joints due to the heat and combustion involved, which can be irritating to those with sensitive lungs. More smokers are discovering vapes that use flowers as the best way to go. So my experiment has the benefit of understanding that path so I can compassionately offer advice. Hence, I hope to find the “ground zero” of vaping flowers so that I am able to judge that way in the Emerald Cup this coming December. Will the flavors, terpenes and highs that I experience be the same for Swami when he smokes it in a joint? I truly look forward to finding that out and being able to share the discoveries.
There are a few other benefits to not smoking joints. Smoke is a very drying substance so I have found my skin to be softer and more hydrated, especially around the lips. I also have been very surprised to realize that I am remembering my very vivid dreams in the morning. Most regular cannabis smokers will tell you that they rarely recall a dream, but surprisingly the strong THC oil that I take every night gives me full-length Technicolor dreams. I can’t begin to explain how that happens, but it does. I do wake up a bit groggy but that feeling evaporates quickly. Yet the dreams are so lucid and realistic and stay with me all day. The other benefit of not smoking joints throughout the day, for better or worse, is that I get lots more work done.
I will always believe that smoking a nice joint is the full cannabis experience as intended. The temperature fluctuates as it slowly burns, the tastes change and the high comes on in a smooth and immediate way that edibles can never accomplish. In the 20 minutes it takes to smoke a joint my mood would elevate, stimulating conversations would ensue and my body would relax into a serene space. Hopefully, soon I will master the skill of vaping flowers and find that same enjoyment and medicinal values. Cannabis will always be my ally, in several forms, but boy, I do love a good fat joint!
[Canniseur: California can lead the way in ensuring smaller legacy farmers stay in the cannabis business. Or, they can make it difficult, allowing large corporate farms with generic weed to flourish. Which will it be California?]
Farmers are worried. We are worried and tired of continually getting slammed with new rules and regulations. And don’t even get me started on taxes. Just when you think things are beginning to settle into some sort of acceptable pattern, they slap you again and you just have to figure out how to deal with it.
The latest was a splash email sent out to all applicants to the California Department of Food and Agriculture cannabis cultivation license program. It was a warning that if you don’t have your Annual Permit in process — and almost completed — by the time your Temporary Permit expires, you are basically screwed. Well, they didn’t exactly use those words, but it felt like they did.
There are now almost 7,000 Temporary Cultivation Licenses issued across the state of California. Each of those represents a hard-working farmer who is determined to become legal. These are a small fraction of cannabis growers who have stuck in the game thus far and do not intend to strike out now. Turns out it’s an expensive and time-consuming sport. Maybe if we’d all known how much so when we started to play, we would have walked away from the field. But here we are, tens of thousands of dollars into it, bound and determined to finish the game.
From my vantage point in the heart of the Emerald Triangle, it’s like watching a fog creep over Mendocino County, obscuring thousands of cannabis farms which will eventually fade into oblivion. There are a handful of clearings where a few survivors tentatively hang on. In the distance are the Big Guys, with large open fields of green, flourishing in the sunlight — the corporate giants itching to be able to put “Grown in Mendocino” on their labels. They want to claim they grow “heritage craft cannabis,” even if they arrived from another state, or country, only a few months ago.
It’s just not the same thing as pioneer cultivators on longtime farms hidden deep in the hills.
“Three years from now there won’t be hardly any growers left in the mountains, you watch,” predicts Tim Blake, founder of The Emerald Cup. “By the time Fish and Wildlife gets done with everyone, fewer than half the people who think they’ll survive now — they simply won’t survive.”
It’s starting to feel like the same old story, just those grumpy farmers complaining again. Even our Board of Supervisors doesn’t want to hear about it anymore. But the anxiety is palpable – the fear level is rising as we approach the Third Extinction Event.
The First Event was Jan 1, 2018 when the new law went in to effect. The Second Event was July 1, 2018, when people were told there would be an extension, but the rules were changed anyway and people were not prepared. The Third Extinction is starting now.
Most farmers have Temporary Permits, which began to expire in February and will continue expiring through July. The reason they are expiring is the absurd time limit set in the state law combined with a logjam of thousands of applications to the CDFA, which has totally overwhelmed them and their new computer program. In 12 months, they have awarded just four Annual Licenses. The procedure for coming into compliance is so complex and time-consuming, the small farmers need to hire expensive professional help. Many applications are incomplete because they are still waiting on clearance from other agencies to complete their submissions.
If the state does not come up with an emergency fix soon, another group of our already vanishing breed of craft cannabis farmers will go bankrupt and lose their farms. No doubt some of these will be “originals” who were literally the first to sow Her seeds in the Emerald Triangle. These are the farmers who have voluntarily come forward to enter the legal market, and they won’t be able to return to the illicit market because now the state knows exactly where they are.
For those farmers who have already applied for their Annual Licenses and are in process of hopefully getting approval by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, chances are good they will receive a “Provisional Permit” and be good to go until their Annual is complete. But if they are among the approximate 4,000 who did not submit their Annual Applications in time, they may have to begin the entire process all over again. At the rate they are progressing, that will take a very long time — long enough to put many farms out of business.
I recognize that opening any kind of business can be a challenge and the government will always do its best to impose as many rules and regulations as possible, especially here in our beloved California. But in the cannabis profession, yet a whole other level of stipulations enters the picture. I envision legislators staying up late at night, drinking alcohol and snorting coke, contemplating how to torture us next. We represent the lazy, good-for-nothing hippies who avoided paying taxes for years, I know it.
The mess we are now facing can only be blamed on the legislators who know nothing about cannabis and so made bad laws, and the unknowing bureaucrats who created such unwieldy, stringent, punitive regulations. Each law change means more work for the staff at the Department of Food and Agriculture, the Bureau of Cannabis Control and the Department of Public Health, who are already swamped with thousands of permit applications. The ones I really have compassion for are the very helpful staff at CDFA. Somehow, they almost always have a smile in their voices when I call, even though they must be inundated with callers. We may grow cannabis, but they cultivate patience at CDFA.
There is no question that it will still take several months for the various agencies involved to catch up. If a solution is not found to supply Provisional Permits to as many farmers as possible, many people predict that by early summer there will be a shortage of flowers and other products on the shelves of cannabis retail shops across the state. Naturally, the Big Corporate Boys will manage to get some permits, so there will be generic cannabis available, stuff that has been grown indoors or in giant greenhouses. The small farmers will be the ones to suffer the most, along with the small manufacturers, distributors, shops and all their thousands of employees.
The glimmer of hope on the horizon is SB-67, recently introduced to the State Senate by Senator Mark McGuire. This bill would allow Temporary Licenses to be extended so that businesses may carry on until receiving their full Annual Licenses. If it passes in the Senate it goes to the Assembly, sponsored by Assemblymember Wood, so it can take 60 to 90 days before finally reaching Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is expected to sign it into law. Such is the turtle speed of democracy.
As spring approaches, cannabis cultivators begin to consider their cultivars for next season and to prepare the soil and garden for the coming crop. Imagine living in the limbo of not knowing whether or not to start your seeds and prepare your gardens. Will the plants you start today, fully legal by California law, still be legal at the end of the month, if your Temporary Permit expires? And now they know just where to find you? Get the picture? Yes, this is every grower’s worst nightmare.
Prayers that this impending disaster is avoided are now being accepted. Thank you.
Ed. Note: The harvest continues with or without the workers the industry needs. This story reflects on some of the difficulties in changing from an outlaw industry to a legal industry. For now, cannabis still has an outlaw aura around it. Until cannabis is a normalized part of our society, we’ll continue to see excessive laws.
Ever since January 1, 2018, when adult-use legalization went into effect in California, we have been riding wave after wave of new regulations. So far we have managed to stay afloat thanks to hard work, flexibility and some good luck. As harvest approaches, however, we face yet another big breaker to surf. Let’s hope it’s not a tsunami!
Harvest season has always been a busy and festive time, with lots of people helping out in many ways to get the plants all cut, dried and trimmed. Traditionally, like most cannabis farmers, we have had workers from all across the globe — from Tibet, Holland, Israel, Germany, England and South America. A wide variety of accents could be heard in the shops and towns across the Emerald Triangle. Trimmigrants would line the highways, fingers outstretched in a scissor cutting motion to signify their skills. Those days are over.
Clearly, the word has gotten out, as there aren’t many young folks flocking to the region for seasonal labor this year. The few of us who actually have permits to grow are now required to hire only California residents who are willing to be fingerprinted, pay taxes and sign contracts. Those who are still operating in the black market, which is the vast majority, must find their help in clever ways and can’t be so obvious about it anymore. While we are being jolted forward into regulations in the new era of legal cannabis, those who aren’t permitted are retreating to their old clandestine ways.
Up in Humboldt County, unpermitted growers are facing a harsh reality, which no doubt will soon spread to other counties. They may awake to find notices from various agencies (Fish & Wildlife, water boards, planning and building, the sheriff, etc.) posted on their gate demanding they “cease and desist” their violations of code such and such. Failure to do so will incur penalties to the tune of $10,000 a pop, per day. Yes, you read that right. An illegal cannabis grower could face easily $30,000 a day in fines. I did read however that they made the generous gesture of putting a cap on it — at $999,000! The only options are to either pull out all the plants immediately and destroy them, apply for a permit right away (but you still have to pay the fines for the days it takes to register your application), or start packing and get out of Dodge.
While we no longer have to worry about helicopters circling above or the sheriff and his posse swooping in, we do have to stay on top of seemingly endless compliance issues.
We also could easily incur huge fines for things such as an unposted permit on a garden gate, an improper use of water or an OSHA complaint and so much more. We can only do our very best and hope we have covered all the necessary bases. Hence, preparing for this harvest has been a whole new ballgame.
Luckily, we can continue to dry and cure our cannabis here on our ranch, but we are no longer allowed to trim and package on site. The reason is that a commercially permitted building is required, with ADA parking and toilet, security cameras and numerous other necessities. The prohibitive cost of that construction project is out of the question for 95 percent of the farmers. However, we still are required by the Environmental Health Department in Mendocino County to have an ADA toilet for the farmers, out near the garden. We rent a port-a-potty — at least it’s green and not bright blue!
The old adage “find a need and fill it” certainly applies to the cannabis business. Some smart entrepreneurs have acquired the necessary permits to open processing companies where farmers can take their bucked (cut down to smaller pieces after drying) cannabis to be trimmed, weighed, packaged and eventually picked up by a distributor. Companies like Flow Kana have been assiduously preparing for this step for a few years while others are just getting into the game. The need and demand are there. But for the farmer, sending the flowers off the farm to be trimmed is like sending your daughters off to college. It’s difficult to let go of the beautiful plants that we sprouted from seeds 6 months ago and have since lovingly nurtured. Now that they are at their very fragrant best, off they go. It can be emotional just thinking about it. Another lesson in non-attachment.
Human nature generally has us stuck in current beliefs and patterns so that when things change so drastically it takes time for the new reality to sink in. Many of our fellow farmers knew the changes were happening, but unless they were actively involved in the process over the past few years, they are just now finding out how drastic those changes are. Cannabis growers generally are pretty laid back people, not exactly the kind who like to read ordinances and regulations, so it might as well be Greek to them. Catching up is a challenge, but the options are what is happening in Humboldt.
I am happy to report that even though everything is permitted and official, with all appropriate paperwork signed, we still are the same people and are still having a great time helping the girls grow. That’s what it’s really all about. The laws will always be there, but they don’t need to halt creativity. I am learning it’s all about being flexible and giving, just as much as it is about pushing to progress. Cannabis teaches us to go with the flow, to open our minds to new ways of experiencing life, to live through all of our senses. Just as we can learn new ways to harvest the plants, we can discover new layers of life.
TELL US, what changes in cannabis have you seen where you live?