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A Prayer for the Farmers

Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

Joint Opinions

A Prayer for the Farmers

Changes in California cannabis are hurting many farmers in the marijuana growing heartland of the state.

The dawn of the new age of cannabis in California has primarily highlighted the trials and tribulations of freshly permitted producers of the plant, from cultivators and manufacturers to dispensaries. Yet, what about the people left behind, the ones who aren’t going for the permit? Growers like us have been so swept up in getting our own scene together that very few of us have stopped to look outside our own gardens while others were losing their gardens completely.

I gained a glimpse into that world last weekend, and it was enlightening. And depressing. I was at a meeting of the International Cannabis Farmers Association, where I joined the conversation at a breakout table titled “Transitioning Into the Future.” The group of ten people was gathered under a lovely white gazebo on the green lawns of the Flow Cannabis Institute in Mendocino County. Other groups scattered across the grounds discussed topics such as “Marketing and Consumer Education” or “Legislative and Regulatory Advocacy.”

Kristen Nevedal, founding chair of the board of ICFA and stalwart of the NorCal cannabis community for years, was hosting the table. As I approached, the conversation was already warming up.

“They’re dropping like flies,” stated Kevin Jodrey, Humboldt cannabis wizard and owner of Wonderland Nursery, in his thick Rhode Island accent. He claimed he’s seeing people packing up and leaving all around him, and most are old-time farmers. “The numbers just don’t add up, and unless they can be big growers, they just can’t make it work.”

The early signs of an exodus have been obvious for several months now, if you’ve been looking. At first, only a few blessed with prescience saw the cannabis crash coming, considered their chances of survival and made conscious decisions about their future in the business. Most chose to ignore it and trust the black market would thrive forever, some saw the writing on the wall and moved on awhile ago and a few actually went for the permits and the legal route. It’s the first group who are suffering now.

It began to become apparent last July or so. As light deprivation crops were beginning their harvest season it started to dawn on many growers that they had yet to sell any of their 2016 harvest. People were sitting on 100-plus pound loads and no one was buying. And if someone did offer, the prices were so ridiculously low, hovering between an average of $500-$800 per pound, that they were insulted and refused. At first. After a few more months, they were happy to accept $500 for a pound of beautiful sungrown cannabis flowers. But it seemed like a crime and it was hurting everyone.

By autumn it began to be obvious to local business owners and politicians as well. Members of the Board of Supervisors were clearly hearing it back from some of their more prosperous constituents that business was failing. Finally, they recognized the significant impact of cannabis growing on the economy of the county. Hence, the lawmakers began to listen more closely to the farmers. But it was too late. The permit process had begun Jan. 1, 2017 and nine months later only about 600 applications had been submitted. The majority of the estimated 8,000-plus growers in the country was clearly choosing to stay in the black market zone.

For Sale Mendocino

Many people in Mendocino have been unable to make a living in the new cannabis marketplace and have left the community./Photo Nikki Lastreto

Once the fires came in October, desperation became palpable. The thick smoke that covered much of Mendocino County choked people’s spirits and many just gave up. “It just won’t work, no matter how I crank the numbers” is what is heard over and over again forlornly. For Sale signs began popping up everywhere as property values plummeted in the wrong zones for growing cannabis, which is about 80 percent of Mendocino County at this point.

At the breakout table, we pinpointed the two groups most at risk: seniors and kids. We questioned if there is any way we can be of help, when we are all struggling to pay our own taxes and permits and all the costs of going legit. Yet there must be a way to assist the struggling factions of our community.

The issue hitting the baby boomer population, who were the real pioneers of craft cannabis growing (when it was simply known as “homegrown”), is how they will survive. Certainly being an outlaw grower did not add to your Social Security fund and it’s too late to go out and get another job now. While everyone else seems to think all pot growers have piles of money stashed in the hills, it simply is not true. Most outlaw farmers are not known for their pecuniary skills.

As for the children of growers, it is a difficult dilemma indeed. The second and third generation children of cannabis growers really don’t know how to do a whole lot more than grow cannabis, and talk cannabis and smoke cannabis. Many have the makings of master cultivators, yet they lack the skill of running a business in the world of legitimate sales. Dare I say they are spoiled by the hard-working but idyllic life their parents have enjoyed for years and they are ill-prepared to go out and develop new skills? In similar situations historically, be it with any crop on any continent, when the farming work dries up the kids move to the cities. The old family farm disappears. We all pray this does not happen in the Emerald Triangle.

How to solve these issues is a conundrum which challenges a compassionate heart. One person at the table suggested the state offer assistance as they would to any other farmer in distress. However, considering cannabis is wrongly considered a “product” and not a “crop” by the state, that is a long shot at this time. School programs at local county colleges were also an idea if we can convince people there is hope and a chance to start again in a new field. The canna-tourism field was also brought up as a place for new careers, although it will take some time for it to develop. These people need help now.

The emerging field of legal cannabis, which is touted to be such an economic boost to many, clearly has its drawbacks for those who are the very backbone of it. As the black market fades over the coming years, we will see a whole new group of people moving into these hills, onto beloved ranches and farms built by original growers. Some call it evolution, others call it devolution. We’ll go with the flow, but we pray for those washed away with the tide.

TELL US, are you concerned about longtime cannabis farmers losing their livelihood?

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  1. Just a fart in the wind

    March 19, 2018 at 11:48 am

    On the TV show Weedicate (Viceland tv Channel) Steve D’Angelo at one moment says he supports small craft growers, he then takes Krishna on a tour of a very large greenhouse complex he bought…

    HWho has $20k ~ $25k to go legal..?

    Certainly not the small mom & pop farmers who cultivate less that 50 plants.

    Who created this mess..? COUNTY SUPERVISORS and the STATE LEGISLATURE.

    While Humboldt early on adopted regulations of a tiered system dependent on land parcel size, Mendocino Sups have dragged their feet, and still don’t have their shit together…so how can people have faith in a constantly moving target..?

    And EVERY county has the ability to come up with it’s own regulations, so it’s a crazy patchwork of policies, often in conflict…

    Political forces prevented STATE law mandating ALL counties treat the legal market the same across the board…Imagine if alcohol production & sales were subject to this illogical approach, with every county “doing it’s own thing”.

    Politicians in govt are to blame, yet they don’t see the harm they’ve done…EVERYBODY I talk with says it’s the f#cking sh!thead politicians that screwed things up.

    And to top things off, MANY RIPOFFS OCCURED in the spyrock area this winter, by people wearing men’s size 8 boots / shoes, camped out watching people places, and leaving behind trash in spanish language packaging…

  2. Sad

    February 16, 2018 at 10:54 am

    The people who tried to stay within the law all along…never had piles of money.
    Just enough to make ends meet year to year, are the first shoved out.
    Between the greedy State and local gov. trying to fund the gov. off the small farmers + the threats of Sessions…not to mention Gov.Brown poking Sessions in the eye all the time, there is just no way to make it work.
    Sad…just shows how the Gov. can ruin any industry…and punish caring growers in favor of Mega outsiders. Does it really take 15 agencies to police 25 plants?

  3. Fortunian

    February 13, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    I knew this was going to happen. I love in Humboldt County and the small growers are out numbered by outsiders. The crime rate has quadrupled, there are more people living off the streets, young people just don’t even consider looking for work thinking they are going to hit it big in the pot industry. Once the state gets it’s greedy little paws into it the industry goes downhill. And who is profittinf from it? The government. It sucks$

  4. TrinityCountyGrower

    February 12, 2018 at 9:34 pm

    Regulation and taxation, gonna funnel all that money into the pockets of the elites.

    That’s how California does things.

  5. Oldtimer

    February 12, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    Absolutely has changed everything. The regulations and compartmentalizing the permit system isn’t building a success rate for families. Sad days ahead.

  6. Dolly Butters

    February 12, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    There are specialty crops such as kiwi, artichokes, strawberries, pomegranates, etc. So long as they are organic and you grow a lot of them, you can at least pay your taxes. Some folks are going to have to buckle down and learn a trade at the local Mendocino college and work for a few years while they figure it out.

    • Sam

      February 16, 2018 at 7:44 pm

      kiwis? wtf are u talking about lady? and if its so viable why arent you or anyone starting a specialty crop nursery so you and your community can survive?

      learn a trade and work a few yrs? the mortgage is due now the property tax has been overdue. Not everyone can afford a few years to “jus figure it out.”

  7. Barbara Blaser

    February 11, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    This is just so very sad. Customers are missing their old trusted friends. We frequently get blamed at the dispensary level for dropping the ball when products vanish from our menu.

    While some expected this to happen, I don’t know if we understood the scoop or the impact on edibles vendors.

    It’s only February, not sure where we will be in July.

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