It was supposed to be a straw that finally broke the prohibitionists’ back. It was supposed to be the crowning achievement of cannabis activism. Instead, California’s second attempt to legalize marijuana has become an insular fight pitting longtime growers against cannabis reformers.
With all things regarding marijuana, the controversy surrounding Proposition 64 — The Adult Use of Marijuana Act — is complicated. And the battle is as ugly as it is confusing.
Prop. 64 has the full support of nearly every pro-marijuana advocacy group across the nation. The voter initiative is leading comfortably in nearly every poll. American attitudes in favor of marijuana have never been higher. And yet, growers who have spent decades cultivating the plant and battling for progressive laws are actively rooting for defeat. What gives? Why are marijuana growers hoping in bed politically with Just-Say-No acolytes?
Follow the money
“I don’t want to replace a criminal injustice with an economic injustice,” said Hezekiah Allen, the executive director of the California Growers Association, a marijuana trade group.
Allen, a third-generation marijuana farmer in Humboldt County — the hub of the world famous “Emerald Triangle” where some of the best plants are cultivated — is not alone in his concerns.
The California Growers Association is taking a neutral stance on Prop. 64 after a recent survey found an even split among its 750 members: 31 percent in favor, 31 percent against, and 38 percent undecided.
Opponents fear the legislation will mean costly taxes and regulations and shrinking prices. And, of course, many abhor the creeping corporate interests that might force smaller operators out of the industry altogether.
“Legalization will end our way of life up here. Period. End of story,” said one long-time grower who wished to remain anonymous in the tight-knit community of Mendocino. “I’ve been doing this for 38 harvests and I am almost certain this is my last,” he said.
The average price of wholesale marijuana has dropped from $2,030 a pound in January to $1,664 in August, according to Cannabis Benchmarks, a cannabis pricing outfit. And wholesalers were getting closer to $3,500 not too long ago. In the out-of-state black market, the prices have also dipped.
It’s the economy, stupid
California is the sixth-largest economy in the world and is the state produces more cannabis than any other state. (Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 1996. The state’s black market is responsible for most of the domestic inventory.)
According to most experts, the combined legal and illegal market for marijuana is worth an estimated $30 billion. If California, as expected, legalizes weed, that figure would soar.
Market research firm New Frontier estimates that California’s marijuana sales would skyrocket from $2.76 billion in 2015 to $6.46 billion by 2020.-