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The Joys & Tribulations of Being a Cannabis Pioneer

The Highs & Lows of Being a Cannabis Pioneer
Photo by Nikki Lastreto

Joint Opinions

The Joys & Tribulations of Being a Cannabis Pioneer

Farmer Nikki Lastreto sends us her latest in the battle between veteran cannabis farmers and the constraints of the new legal landscape.

No one thought it would be easy. The entire concept of “going legal” was so surreal, how could we have even conceptualized what would happen? What was literally an optimistic pipe dream may have gone up in smoke, but once we took the first hit, we knew it was a commitment.

A few years into it now, we can reflect on what it’s really been like for the outlaw pot farmers of the Emerald Triangle (and beyond) to have gone legal. The first words that come to mind are simply: A hell of a lot of work. Not that being a farmer and running a ranch wasn’t tough physical labor. But none of us had been in training for the mental gymnastics required to run a cannabis business in California. Keeping up with the mercurial rules and regulations is like jumping through hoops and running high hurdles at the same time. Barefoot.

Along the way, however, there have been some real benefits as well, the main one being the people we have met and interacted with as we go through this together. Our fellow pioneers — whether they be growers we have known for decades, or employees of the numerous agencies we now deal with, or employees of our own, as our businesses expand like never before. It is clear that we all realize we need one another to get through these early days of the legitimate cannabis culture in California, as we shape it like trimming a bud. Every nuance, every snip, must be done with care — and usually lots of questions.

Unfortunately, for all the kindred spirits we have met on this journey to permitted cannabis, many of the pioneer growers have faded away. Too many dear neighbors and fellow farmers decided to toss in the trowel, so to speak, when they realized early on that there was no point in even applying for a permit. This tended to happen either because their property would never pass the California Department of Fish and Wildlife inspection, or because they did the math and realized they couldn’t afford the process, they don’t grow that much anyways and they are too old to change their ways. Or as a grower recently said, “Going legal! Where’s the fun in that?” We may have chosen the legal route, but I hope there is always room for the abiding rebels in our world.

By attending board of supervisor meetings for the last several years, combined with seemingly endless other meetings of local cannabis committee, which is all of paramount importance to what happens in our county, the legal growers miss out on local events or just chilling with the neighbors on the hill. We miss these opportunities deeply.

Certainly, there are still lots of illegal gardens in the hills of the Emerald Triangle, but we don’t get to hang with those growers much anymore. The legal growers are encapsulated in the Pioneer world, diligently keeping up with the latest State regulations such as MCRSA in 2015 followed by 64 (AUMA) in 2016 followed by SB94 in 2017. Our paths have gone different directions. It’s a tough trade-off, and while we don’t complain, the feeling of loss is there.

Again, on the flip side, look at the positive aspect of not being “criminals” anymore. First of all, I certainly never saw myself as a criminal because there was never a doubt in my mind, since I smoked my first joint 50 years ago, that it was not harmful. I may not have called it medicine back then, but my body knew it was. To me, the biggest blessing of legalization is that this healing herb is now available to the masses, who are quickly discovering her many powers. Over the past 15 months since cannabis became permissible, countless seniorsathletesopioid addicts and cancer patients have come to me with questions. “How can I use cannabis to get well? Will I get too high? What’s the best strain for what I need?”

I must admit, some of these people surprise me, as they don’t look anything like the stoners I’ve known for years. Before it was legal, they never would have considered cannabis. Time for me to open my judgmental mind, as I am finding that some people who for years I thought were super straight-laced types are starting to show their true colors — they’ve been hiding the green all this time. I didn’t even know closet stoners existed. But now they can call a delivery service and invite some other ex-closet stoners over to get high. Just knowing that is happening right now, and that they might even be smoking Swami Select, makes it worth all the bills and taxes I had to do today.

Plus, and this is equally big, people are not getting busted for possession, and some are being released for past offenses. San Francisco should be proud of its District Attorney George Gasćon, who is “reviewing, recalling and resentencing up to 4,940 felony marijuana convictions [in San Francisco] and dismissing and sealing 3,038 misdemeanors which were sentenced prior to the initiative’s passage,” according to ABC News. That’s awesome. It’s time we begin to empty out the prisons of the United States.

Yes, the stress levels are exceedingly high right now for many farmers with temporary permits about to expire, and for all of us as we struggle through the political quagmire around us. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel which is just starting to become visible. I trust there will be a time soon when things will fall into place, and having a cannabis business will be just like having any kind of business.

Well, probably not… Just about when California finally figures out how to help the industry rather than kill it, and cultivators, manufacturers, distributors and dispensaries finally get their permits in place — that’s when the federal government will wake up at last and deschedule it. Once again, the pioneers will have to step up and make their way through the new rules and regulations imposed. The benefits will be great: endless research possibilities, more people out of jail, medicine available everywhere, interstate and international commerce, the ability to send product by mail, tax benefits and banking like any other business, etc.

The changes will bring a whole new round of headaches, no doubt, but it’s ultimately so worth it. That’s my vision, and as a pioneer, it’s my guiding star.

TELL US, what excites you about today’s legal cannabis market?  

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