The transition to legal cannabis panel from left to right: Hezekiah Allen, John Ford, Tony Silvaggio, Mariellen Jurkovich and Linda Stansberry. Photo by Tyrone McDonald.

Cannabis industry faces new era

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Cannabis town hall.

The Humboldt State Department of Politics hosted the 14th annual Schaub Memorial Lecture on local politics titled “The Transition to Legal Cannabis,” on March 26. John Meyer, the chair of the HSU politics department, presided the panel discussion.

The four panelists were Hezekiah Allen, executive director of California Growers Association; John Ford, Humboldt County director of planning; Mariellen Jurkovich, director of Humboldt Patient Resource Center and Linda Stansberry, a journalist at the North Coast Journal.

Tony Silvaggio, HSU sociology professor and Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research contributor, served as the moderator.

The California voters approved the Adult Use of Marijuana Act on Nov. 8, 2016. The California state legislature approved the Medical and Adult Use of Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act in 2017. However, local and city governments can ban cannabis business within their jurisdictions. In Jan. 2018, the state of California licensed marijuana facilities sold state licensed, distributed and produced marijuana.

“Certainly the transition from illegal, unregulated to regulated, legal cannabis in the state of California is a very complex one that is riddled with all sorts of political considerations,” Allen said.

Three California state departments are in charge of licensing and regulating cannabis commerce. The California Department of Consumer Affairs regulates and licenses retail sales, distribution and testing. The California Department of Public Health oversees manufacturing and the California Department of Food and Agriculture is responsible for cultivation.

“First and foremost, California grows way more cannabis than we consume here. The state’s estimate is that we produce 15 million pounds and that we consume 2.5 million pounds. That is a huge disparity,” Allen said.

John Ford is an HSU alumnus. Ford talks about cannabis farmers expectations being part of the legal system.

“I think [the farmers] expectations were that ‘It shouldn’t be too hard to permit what I have already been doing,'” Ford said.

Cannabis farmers found out about local taxes, state and county permits.

“2,300 applications that were submitted to the county almost simultaneously, literally choked the system,” Ford said.

The local community and economy are reliant upon cannabis.

“Then, there’s Humboldt County, who has an economy to protect, a reputation and an identity to protect. This industry is important for jobs, for economic growth and yes, taxes,” Ford said.

Ford spoke about other places in California being better suited for cannabis cultivation with flatter land, pre-existing greenhouses and better weather, places close to markets and transportation with abundant access to investment capital.

Mariellen Jurkovich talked about working together as a community.

“Arcata is willing to work with you. Eureka is willing to work with you. We need to work together as a community. This is our industry,” Jurkovich said.

Stansberry is concerned about the economic ramifications that were not anticipated.

“We are going through a really painful growth period,” Stansberry said.

Nick Thomas is a political science major at HSU and thinks slowing big business down will help the local economy.

“We need to make sure that a lot of the major industrial-sized grows get pushed back for five years. That is step number one,” Thomas said.

Thomas referred to Allen’s statements on the importance of small farmers and how it is about the community.

Allen spoke about policy, cultural and financial barriers.

“Honestly, folks don’t have the means to move forward,” Allen said.

Allen pointed out that the market incentive is not there.

“Of 2.5 million pounds of cannabis consumed in state in California, only 600,000 pounds are sold by regulated retailers. The other 1.9 million pounds of cannabis consumed in state is sold on the unregulated market. There is no point in getting a license now. The market isn’t there,” Allen said.

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