Some Humboldt County residents are still on the fence in regards to Proposition 64, while some are ready for California to join Washington state and Oregon to turn the West Coast into the Weed Coast. Pictured: Marijuana for sale is kept in jars for customers to sample smells, on opening day of a new outlet of the Colorado Harvest Company recreational marijuana stores, in Aurora, Colo on Sept. 16, 2015. (Brennan Linsley, The Associated Press)

California’s Prop. 64 in Humboldt County: Does it protect small pot farms or favor big biz?

Weed Coast: Proposition 64 has sections written in the measure to protect small pot farms, but is it enough to keep them in business?

Proponents of California’s second attempt to legalize recreational marijuana through Proposition 64 say they have righted the wrongs of its predecessor and included provisions to protect small farmers like those in Humboldt County.

“I would say that Proposition 64 deeply respects the growing economy in Humboldt County and the surrounding region,” Yes of Prop. 64 spokesman Jason Kinney said. “I get that change is difficult sometimes, but we’re adding adult use marijuana to a regulatory system that was already implemented by the legislature and governor. For those who are prepared to enter a legal regulated market for medical marijuana, Prop. 64 is simply adding adult use to that structure.”

But reactions to the measure vary among members of Humboldt County’s cannabis community. Some see the measure as playing to special interests that will eventually overtake the small farming community. Others are still on the fence while some are ready for California to join Washington state and Oregon to turn the West Coast into the Weed Coast.

Emerald Family Farms co-founder Isaiah O’Donnell of McKinleyville said he will not be supporting the measure, but said that its passage is inevitable — which is a scary thought for him.

“I would have liked to have seen an initiative for recreational use maybe have some input from the industry that built it,” O’Donnell said.

PROPOSITION 64 VS. 19

Proposition 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, would legalize the use and sales of recreational marijuana and hemp for adults over 21 years old in California. People would be able to possess up to an ounce of dried marijuana flowers and 8 grams of hash at a time. The measure also allows for people to grow up to six plants at a private residence for personal use, though local governments can decide whether to ban outdoor cultivation.

These provisions are relatively similar to California’s failed attempt at legalization with Proposition 19 in 2010. But where Proposition 19 was lacking, proponents of Proposition 64 say their measure has remedied.

Sacramento attorney Richard Miadich who drafted the 62 pages of Proposition 64 said the measure encompasses all of the lessons learned from states that have already legalized marijuana and from California’s new medical marijuana regulatory program that took effect this year.

“Prop. 19 sort of reminds me of a lighter version of Colorado,” Miadich said. “It doesn’t deal with all these serious issues that Prop. 64 deals with on the front end like the regulatory structure, local control, strong anti-monopoly provisions, protection for workers, criminal justice reforms. (Proposition 64) is the most comprehensive legalization initiative hands down.”

The California Growers Association has been involved in the lobbying efforts for Proposition 64 and is currently holding a neutral position, according to its Executive Director Hezekiah Allen.

While he said the association supports provisions such as resentencing individuals convicted of marijuana offenses and clearing their criminal records, Allen said the measure’s allowance for unlimited license types for single entities will favor big businesses.

“From a social and criminal justice perspective, they did a fairly good job,” Allen said of the measure. “From an economic justice perspective, they did a fairly poor job.”

Unlike Proposition 19, the new legalization measure has garnered a broad coalition of supporters including 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Democratic Party, the NAACP and 2nd District Congressman Jared Huffman to name a few.

They’re also outspending their opponents by a 70-to-1 margin, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The Yes on Proposition 64 campaign has raised nearly $20 million with the help of individuals such as Napster founder and ex-Facebook president Sean Parker, whose strong financial involvement in the campaign has left some in the Emerald Triangle’s marijuana community wary of the outcomes.

“This was written by Sean Parker’s billionaire buddies for big business interests,” O’Donnell said.

Recent polls from this month showed there was 60 percent support for the measure while polls for Proposition 19 during this same time in 2010 were showing support ranging in the low 40s to mid-50s percentiles.

Proposition 19 was not met favorably in Humboldt County, with 53 percent of voters going against it. At the precinct level, 65 percent of voters in the county’s marijuana cultivation nexus in Southern Humboldt voted against it.

THE SMALL FARMER

Responding to farmers’ concerns of monopolization and big business favor, Kinney said that the input of the small farmer community held the most weight while they drafted the measure.

As a way to protect small farmers, the measure does not allow the state to issue cultivation licenses for crops sizes greater than 1 acre for the first five years, a provision that Allen said was hard fought for by his association and was not included in the original draft. Non-California residents or businesses would also be prohibited from obtaining marijuana business licenses for the first two years. A major concern for local cultivators has been the measure’s allowance for unlimited license types to be given to an individual applicant, which they fear will allow large companies to eventually overtake the small business market. But Kinney said state regulators will have the ability to control and limit licenses.

“The state regulators, they are under no obligation to issue any licences, but if they want to they can set clear limits on how those licenses can grow and they can issue them,” Kinney said.

He said that measure was drafted using the input of three entities with “no direct interest in the business end of this”: the Drug Policy Alliance, the New Approach political action committee which was the main proponent behind the Oregon pot legalization campaign, and a Blue Ribbon Commission headed by Newsom.

While the Blue Ribbon Commission met with cannabis stakeholders in Garberville last year to hear their thoughts on legalization, Humboldt-Mendocino Marijuana Advocacy Project co-founder Robert Sutherland said the input of the growing community was not carried over into the final language.

“Like every other effort or state legislation that has come before this, it’s being pushed in favor of big producers,” Sutherland said. “It prejudices against the small growers. Since Humboldt County produces 70 percent of the marijuana in California, we think it’s strange (the Proposition 64 drafters) never came up here. And they didn’t, and it reflects that.”

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office even dedicates a section of its review of the measure to the future of the Emerald Triangle cultivation economy. The review states that lower marijuana prices and the expansion of cultivation throughout the state as a result of the proposition’s passage could hurt the economy in Humboldt County and reduce local tax revenues.

“If, however, local growers and business successfully marketed their marijuana products as premium goods, consumers might be willing to pay above-average prices for them,” the report states.

To address this, Proposition 64 creates a micro-business license in which a person would be able to cultivate up to a quarter-acre of cannabis, manufacture it, distribute it and sell it all under one license, Miadich said. Larger business will have to apply for individual licenses and pay separate fees, which Miadich said is unique.

Redcrest resident Sunshine Johnston is currently growing less than a quarter-acre of medical marijuana and plans to apply for the microbusiness license should the measure pass.

She said she is supporting Proposition 64 and said that she is not concerned about being outcompeted by larger grows in five years if the market is already flooded by smaller farmers. Johnston said that Humboldt County’s history and international recognition for marijuana cultivation defines what a premium product it is.

“No one else has a story like we do here, especially people like myself who have been growing for a long time in Humboldt County,” she said. “We have the story.”

AFTERTHOUGHTS

Proposition 64 allows the state Legislature to modify the provisions of the measure.

“If this initiative passes, it won’t be the end,” Miadich said. “This is really the beginning of the work. We give broad authority to regulators and allow the legislature to amend the provisions by a majority vote. We can’t view this as a structure we have to live with forever.”

Regardless of the outcome in November, Allen said California’s marijuana community has a lot of work ahead of them.

“Prop. 64 will come and go,” he said. “What we need to do is focus on restoring justice. We’re going to need to stay focused and unified and keep working.”

O’Donnell said current difficulties of getting local business permits in Humboldt County may make it difficult for the cannabis industry to unify quickly.

“I hope that the community up here, the farmers, can get better than we have and be one of the largest lobbying groups in California,” he said. “… The sooner we have permits and are considered legit businesses, the sooner the industry will mature.”

Legalization of marijuana through Proposition 64 will not solve issues at the federal level, including banking and insurance provisions that have been insurmountable barriers for legalized states thus far. But Kinney said that the passage of Proposition 64 will generate a larger national conversation.

“The passage of Proposition 64 is going to be bigger than the measure itself,” Kinney said. “I do believe that this will be wind behind the sails of the federal effort to find banking solutions.”

Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts and Arizona will also be voting on recreational marijuana legalization measures in November.

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Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.

This story was first published on Times-Standard.com