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California Cannabis: We Are History

Swami and Steve Cannabis Now
Swami and Steve DeAngelo/Photos Nikki Lastreto

Joint Opinions

California Cannabis: We Are History

Longtime growers in the Emerald Triangle experience the first retail cannabis sales in California.

After a night of dancing and new year’s eve celebrations, Swami and I made our way south to the Bay Area. There was no way we could resist being there to watch Steve DeAngelo, CEO of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, personally sell the first legal cannabis on the adult-use market in California. He had arranged for his dispensary (or do we simply call them “shops” now?) to be the first to open on this momentous day in the history of our golden, and now also green, state.

We arrived shortly before six in the morning, the sky still dark, yet already there was a line of eager customers. Considering no one really knew if anyone would actually show up, this was reassuring. It really was happening! We were ushered inside where the newly remodeled space was packed with the press, all trying to get the shot of that first bud sale. Steve and his brother Andrew said appropriately grateful words and then cut the ribbon with giant scissors — opening up to anyone with a legal ID who was over 21 years of age. The scissors were a nice touch I thought, a normalization of the cannabis business. Just like opening any kind of store, right?

It literally brought tears to my eyes, as well as others around me, as it sunk in that the time has truly come. “I am still in shock and can’t believe this is really happening,” said Yoli Felix, Steve’s wife and chief designer for Harborside. After decades of devotion to bringing this sacred plant to the world, we are actually seeing it in our lifetime. Hallelujah!

But it’s not all buds and roses. While I shed tears of joy, others are pissed. Yes, they slipped some nasty legislation past us at the last minute and the new regulations are far from perfect, but this is our first step into the big pool. Whenever I find myself feeling any cynicism about it, I remind myself of the people who will now not go to prison for smoking a joint as well as the thousands who will now benefit from the many medicinal values of cannabis. We may have to pay taxes and jump through a million hoops now, but for those two reasons alone, it is worth it to me.

“Remember when we were outlaws,” I hear growers lamenting in the Emerald Triangle. It is true: with the dawn of this new year, a lifestyle that is half a century old will be transformed for many sungrown cannabis farmers.

Of course there will be plenty of diehard rebel’s who refuse to change. Life for them will revert to circa 1990 when small plants were secretly cultivated under the manzanita bushes and hiding from the cops was de riguer. Nobody knows how long there will be a black market to sell their unpermitted product, but in the new age of legal cannabis it can’t be for long. At least not like it used to be. I have heard people whispering, “Black is Back” — but for how long and at what price?

Now that we are basically “historical figures” I guess it’s been long enough that stories can be shared without fear of retribution. These stories need to be remembered now for posterity. In 150 years it will be like us now describing the 49ers of the Gold Rush as a gruff and adventurous lot of folks willing to risk it all for the thrill of discovery. Buyers would drive north from the Bay Area and lay out wads of cash without hardly even stopping to admire the gorgeous homegrown weed. And that was when it cost up to $5,000 a pound.

Ah yes, there is no denying it was an adventurous life in the good old days before permits and taxes. I will always fondly remember crazy trim room scenes, drying under plastic canopies in the rain, late night rendezvous with a connection who inevitably was late. People were pros at becoming invisible when helicopters flew frighteningly low and could kick into high gear and clean and evacuate a grow-op in record time. These may sound like odd accomplishments of which to be proud, yet they were all part of growing pot in the Emerald Triangle.

It really wasn’t all scary. Often it was ridiculous, like scenes out of a Cheech and Chong film gone bad. Nonetheless, being an outlaw also had benefits. Like perfect mid-summer days when the plants were growing happily in the ground and we had time to leisurely enjoy ourselves. It certainly beat a desk job. Of course there were monetary benefits too.

Let’s face it, most farmers aren’t businessmen. They are artists and similarly have little sense of money. A few stashed away enough or invested it wisely but most just spent it living life to the fullest. In the heyday, if a new truck cost $25,000 they’d figure well heck, that’s only five pounds. Our monetary values were skewed but at the same time we kept the other businesses in our counties quite flush. It was a trade off. While the good old boys didn’t ever like us long haired growers in their neck of the woods, on some level they understood that we supported the communities.

And so we enter the new age of cannabis in California. Let us embrace the future and guide the wave as we ride through this transition. If anyone has suggested that I’d see this in my lifetime when I was a flower child in San Francisco in the ’60s, I would have laughed and blown smoke in their face. Yet here we are and it our responsibility to do it right. What an honor!

TELL US, do you feel like you are making history?

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