(Repeating for additional clients with no changes to text.)
By Rory Carroll
HUMBOLDT COUNTY, Calif. Oct 4 Hezekiah Allen is
a third-generation marijuana farmer in this Northern California
county, where the cool coastal fog pours off the Pacific Ocean,
coaxing pot plants to heights of 20 feet.
The executive director of the California Growers Association
trade group, Allen has long sought an end to what he calls
"prohibition" and has looked forward to a day when he and the
thousands of pot farmers here would no longer be outlaws.
But he said he can't bring himself to vote for Proposition
64, a referendum on California's November ballot that would
legalize cultivation, sale and recreational use of marijuana.
While pot purveyors might seem to be likely Prop. 64
supporters, Allen's ambivalence is widespread within the
The California Growers Association took a neutral stance
after a recent poll among its 750 farmers, distributors and
retailers found a split: 31 percent supported, 31 percent
opposed, and 38 percent were undecided.
The larger Prop. 64 debate has focused on moral, social and
health consequences of legalized pot use, but growers' concerns
are more prosaic. Some fear going legit will mean too much red
tape and burdensome oversight. Some fear an onslaught of big
business - and competition that could wipe them out.
"I don't want to replace a criminal injustice with an
economic injustice," Allen said.
Steve Dodge, the CEO of the Humboldt Growers Collective,
another trade group, said he is voting against the initiative
because it would allow regulatory inspections that some pot
growers view as tantamount to warrantless searches.
"We are asking farmers to come out from behind the curtain,
but not providing the assurances they need," he said. "This law
is setting the state up for failure."
California, the sixth-largest economy in the world, already
has legalized marijuana for medical use. It is the biggest
producer in a U.S. market that includes 24 other states and the
District of Columbia with some form of legalization. Brokerage
Cowen pegs legal and illegal U.S. market at about $30 billion.
The approval of recreational use on such a big scale would
be a turning point. It would more than double sales in
California to $6.46 billion in 2020 from the $2.76 billion in
medical use receipts last year, according to a projection by
market researcher New Frontier.
Polls suggest the measures will pass. But growers' concerns
show it won't be easy to move a multi-billion-dollar gray
industry into the light.
Growers would face tax bills and the expense of improving
their farms' ecological footprints to meet environmental
regulations. And, after a five year grace period,
industrial-sized farms would be allowed, a prospect that is
expected to attract corporate agriculture.
Some growers believe going legit would be less lucrative
than selling to states where marijuana remains illegal, a
calculus that could drive them further underground.
"OUTLAW, NOT CRIMINAL"
Six hours north of San Francisco, old growth forests in what
is known as the "Emerald Triangle" nurture vast marijuana
production. Thousand-year-old redwoods have sheltered growers
from raids by authorities since the collapse of logging here in
the 60s and 70s gave rise to the illicit industry.
Wearing a sweatshirt bearing a pot leaf and the slogan, "I'm
an outlaw, not a criminal," a black market grower tended to
small plants bursting with buds raised in a room under high
powered lights and the breeze of fans. The grower, who
identified himself only as Jason B for fear of prosecution, said
he wants to keep big business "out of our neighborhood."
"The reason I will vote 'no' on the proposition is that it
will be corporate influenced and it would be a subpar product,"
Standing in his outdoor grove of plants that tower above
him, Stephen Dillon said the Humboldt Sun Growers Guild he heads
is split over Prop. 64. Growers in the group also are concerned
that it will open the industry to big agriculture, as well as
taxes and penalties, he said.
Dillon acknowledged some illegal growers hurt the
environment, draining creeks for irrigation, pouring
pesticide-laden runoff back into the water supply and creating
mountains of trash on their sites. Prop. 64 would allow the
state to revoke the licenses of such bad actors. But Dillon said
its environmental regulations could cost $20,000 to $100,000 per
farm to meet.
DOUBTS IN HAIGHT-ASHBURY
Doubts are not confined to growers.
Patrice Scott is a receptionist for Green Evaluations, a
medical marijuana clinic above Amoeba Records in San Francisco's
historic Haight-Ashbury district, the epicenter of the hippie
movement in the late 1960s that promoted free love, psychedelic
music and pot.
Scott said she will vote against Prop. 64, viewing it as a
money grab by state and local governments she fears will
squander the revenue. She said the medical marijuana rules,
which require purchasers to obtain a card from a physician, work
"No one has a problem getting a card," she said. "This is
just a way for them (government) to profit."
But opposition is not universal in the industry. Some,
noting a glut in pot is driving down prices, said they welcome
legalization if it brings new demand.
"It is just free falling," said Marion Collamar, a Humboldt
county grower who supports Prop. 64.
The average price of a pound of wholesale cannabis has
fallen from $2,030 in January 2016 to $1,664 in August,
according to Cannabis Benchmarks, a wholesale cannabis pricing
Chrystal Ortiz, a small farmer and operations manager for
the Sun Growers Guild, said she supports Prop 64 because it
would eliminate or reduce most criminal penalties, as well as
prior convictions, for marijuana offenses.
"Primarily black and brown underprivileged people are the
ones being affected by the illegality of cannabis," she said.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Peter Henderson and Lisa