UKIAH, Calif. -- In response to worries among the cannabis community about how legalization would affect the pocketbooks of growers and the region at large, a group called Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Board (MMMAB) convened a forum and workshop in Ukiah Saturday to help its constituents discuss possible challenges.
Businessmen in striped shirts walked beside men with dreads as thick as their fist and as long as their arm at the "Life after Legalization: Marijuana Enters the Mainstream" meeting. Fred DeSanto of Ukiah, an energetic 70-year-old, expressed enthusiasm for what he sees as a new industry. "This is real," he said. "This is absolutely a groundswell. From my experience, these things just snowball." As an engineer, DeSanto, owner of a company that currently provides a variety of products to dispensaries, hopes to design environmentally sound products for the new cannabis businesses.
Meeting facilitator Anna Hamilton, who received international attention for her "What's After Pot" forum in Humboldt County, opened by highlighting the possible economic devastation legalization could bring to marijuana-fueled economies. Many in the crowd had the same worries as they huddled into smaller, intimate "stakeholder" groups for businesses, growers and government. However, as they discussed issues in likeminded clusters, the area hummed with excitement.
During the forum, a dispensary owner asked the standing-room-only crowd if it was acceptable to put people in prison to keep pot prices up. The resounding "no" roared from every corner of the building, as well as from those leaning in through open windows. The crowd of more than 200 people became energized and questions flew from every table about ways to form collectives and other pot businesses.
Pebbles Trippet, long-time activist and MMMAB member, spoke about a "tectonic shift in public opinion" as she noted the current polls which show a majority favoring legalization. Syreeta Lux, the chairwoman of the newly formed Humboldt Medical Marijuana Advisory Panel (HuMMAP), pointed out that Oregon, Washington and three other states had legalization on the ballot. She noted that it was in everyone's best interest to make sure California was not the last to open its doors to the white market economy. A good part of black market sales consist of pounds exported to other states. Why, she asked, would purchasers come here if marijuana was more easily obtainable in other states?
The otherwise well-received Burt Mosier, CEO of the Ukiah Chamber of Commerce, stated that although he had members who need growers' money to stay afloat, he also had members who do not believe that cannabis dollars come into their businesses. Groans of disbelief rumbled through the room and a local radio show host confronted him announcing, "The whole county is lubricated, baby, with marijuana dollars." The crowd erupted, hooting and applauding loudly. But Mosier pointed out that the merchants have no way of knowing who is spending money.
One member of the crowd stood and asked the assembled growers and other associated industries to become members of their local Chamber of Commerce. "Let's join them," said Robert W. Martin, PhD., executive director of a center for testing cannabis for quality. "Become his colleagues ... Have them get to know you. And then they'll start thinking of us all differently -- until we do that, it will always be them and us."
Dan Rush, special operations director for the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 5, in Oakland, said that his group was organizing dispensaries and growers in California's medical marijuana industry. Joking, he added to big applause that now his union was called the United Food and Cannabis Workers.
According to the Orange County Register, Rush believes that "tens of thousands" of "new union jobs in agriculture, retail, food processing, transportation and security" will be created. When Rush sat down afterwards, he was inundated with requests for his card and, though he gave out all his supply and borrowed more from a burly compatriot, he still ran out.
Excited as the room was by the possibility of not only surviving but actually thriving under legalization, growers were still very concerned about maintaining their small-scale, non-corporate status. The issue of the "corporatization of weed" was the topic of many questions from the crowd. In response, Ellen Komp, Deputy Director of NORML, pointed out a study from the Netherlands that focused on how to "expel criminal elements" from the cannabis business, and concluded that mom-and-pop cultivation was the best means. And, of course, then the small cultivators would continue to support their communities in ways big corporations were unlikely to do. Studies like these, she said, could be used to leverage laws to benefit the small farmers packing the room.
Afterwards, Scott, a grower from McKinleyville, compared the meeting (and subsequent spillover packing a nearby restaurant) to America's forefathers exchanging revolutionary ideas in a pub in Boston. He decried the timidness of fellow growers who were unwilling to attend public meetings. He argued passionately that cultivators needed to become more active -- especially with the protection afforded by the medical marijuana laws. "Once you have your script, it gives you a certain amount of power ... you should use that power." He says he plans to attend the next meeting on May 14 in Willits with Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman.
According to "Weed Wars," the Sacramento Bee's marijuana blog, a lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association, John Lovell, claimed that the Ukiah meeting was merely propaganda designed to hide the fact that legalization creates opportunities for growers.
Oddly, after the Ukiah forum, the small marijuana farmers of Mendocino may be close to agreeing with him -- provided they are given the legal protections other small businesses and farms today need to survive.