If you had told me 10 years ago that hippie farmers from the hills would come out to meetings, I’d have laughed. And yet there we were, over 100 of us I’d guess, gathered last Thursday evening in Laytonville for a political rally. That’s an impressive number of people considering all the hermits in these hills. Yet slowly, many are creeping into the light, curious about solutions to our farming dilemma.
The rally was at The Chief, one of the only and best restaurants in town. Tim Blake, founder of The Emerald Cup and Laytonville resident, spearheaded the event with the help of others on the Steering Committee of the Heritage Act, aka Measure AF, which will appear on the November 2016 ballot in Mendocino County. Together they have prepared a dense and extremely thoughtful 62-page ordinance. It may not make the bests seller’s list, but it could potentially affect the lives of a large part of our county’s population.
Starting by gathering over 4,000 signatures last spring, it’s been quite a process to place The Heritage Act, Measure AF on the ballot. If passed, the Heritage Act would introduce, “a more comprehensive regulatory framework for medical cannabis cultivation, processing testing, distribution, transportation, delivery and dispensing in the county of Mendocino in alignment with the state permit structure.”
After the initial hurdle of signature gathering was crossed we encountered some whiplash when the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors also placed a measure on the ballot. The board of supervisor’s proposal is a tax measure which includes a gradual increase from 2.5 percent to 10 percent taxes on the farmer over the next several years. The Heritage Act includes taxes as well, but they are fixed at 2.5 percent. One might assume from these high taxes and permit fees that they want to drive us out, but we try not to think that way. One supervisor actually did say that he feels Mendocino would do better as a county catering to retirees. It’s going to take selling a lot of early bird dinners to equal the cannabis trade here.
It’s been a long and windy road and the steepest part of the hill may yet be ahead of us. We have 77 days left until the election and a county to convince. The Heritage Act is the future of a regulated cannabis industry, which can save our county and regulation is the path to legalization. The primary focus of the measure is quite simple: Measure AF basically mirrors the state MCRSA laws. We just want to continue farming cannabis on our lands and assure that future generations will be able to produce medicine and other by-products to the best of our abilities with constant care for purity and the environment.
All kinds of locals came out for last week’s rally – shopkeepers, dispensary owners, families, firemen and of course, lots of farmers. It is heartening to see folks from separate organizations, such as CGA, SFA and MCIA, come together to support Measure AF. We have a great community and it is thanks to all this political action that we have met and come together. Mendocino County has a history of attracting activists, such as the godmother of our movement, Pebbles Trippet, who was there, along with Jude Thilman, a longtime medical marijuana rights activist who is articulate and brilliant. Her dramatic pitch presentation, asking people to open their wallets and help fund this costly campaign, stirred the crowd.
“The Ad Hoc committee had months and couldn’t figure it out and didn’t. We need to do it right so we aren’t gobbled up!” she cried passionately to the crowd. Thilman related a story of a woman friend who isn’t at all involved in the cannabis biz in Mendo, yet lives here and is concerned about her county. She donated $1,000 to the cause because she understands how integral the growth of the cannabis industry in a conscious and environmentally aware fashion is to the future of Mendocino County. “Who will match this $1,000 from my friend today?” she questioned.
Eagerly a few jumped to their feet — it was practically a revival meeting! Casey O’Neill of Happy Day Farms and president of the CGA was the first with his stack of bills. Shortly thereafter came Adam Steinberg with a check from Flow Kana — a real check instead of cash! This is a new age indeed in our industry! We raised $18,000 that night, but we still have a long ways to go to match what our fellows on the Mendocino Coast have put up by raising $40,000. These inland farmers are more difficult to pull out of the hills and convince about the change coming with regulation and understand that we can have a say in the process, but like I said, they are beginning to creep into the light.
During the rally, Justin Calvino, founder of the Mendocino Appellation Project who also sits on the Heritage Act steering committee, spoke about our cultural terroir and how it is time to showcase our heritage. “If Mendocino doesn’t come up to speed, we will be an island of poverty between Humboldt and Sonoma.” I couldn’t agree more. Here in Mendo, we grow the best cannabis in the world and should be praised and encouraged rather than thwarted and overtaxed. Or as O’Neill stated, “Is it going to happen by us or to us?”
We need 18,000 votes or 50 percent of the entire vote to pass. (Mendocino County only has 90,000 inhabitants and 46,795 registered voters). We already have strong opposition forming, from environmental organizations and old-time citizens who prefer that nothing ever changes and “the darn hippies would just leave for good”. They have labelled it the “Marijuana Takeover Act” and are spreading gross misconceptions about what is really in the Heritage Act. We are obviously choosing to take “the high road” and move forward with positivity.
It is projected that it will cost $150,000 to win on Nov. 8. If we don’t, we will be stuck with the county’s permanent ordinance (still in draft form), which is very restrictive, does not address any of the ancillary businesses and products around cannabis, and maybe worst of all, continues to call cannabis a nuisance rather than an agricultural crop, hence leaving us under jurisdiction of the sheriff’s department. But us Mendonesians are a tough and determined lot, so I have no doubt we’ll win it.
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