After becoming among the first Black women in the Sacramento region to run their own cannabis businesses, Maisha Bahati and Miko Banks are looking to extend opportunities to others looking to get into the local industry.
Bahati, the CEO of cannabis delivery business Crystal Nugs, and Banks, owner of cultivation business Resziin Farms, are combining their efforts to start a new incubator space.
The two are collaborating on a new 8,000-square-foot facility in North Sacramento, which would include an incubator for cannabis startups, a cultivation facility and a new manufacturing and distribution facility called Urban City Flowers. Bahati said they’ve secured a 10-year lease for the space. She declined to disclose the address, citing security concerns.
“It would be the first Black-, woman- and equity-owned manufacturing and distribution facility in Sacramento,” Bahati said.
Crystal Nugs will be a partner in the delivery side of the facility, Bahati said, and Resziin Farms will expand its cultivation operations at the site.
In the years immediately following recreational cannabis legalization in California in 2016, Sacramento’s cannabis industry initially became crowded with well-capitalized groups buying up real estate for cultivation, while some local dispensary chains consolidated and grew rapidly. Amid the competition, Banks and Bahati are looking to help more minority-owned businesses find a foothold.
“In this industry you have to have this vertically integrated system,” Bahati said. “The competition is big, and that’s what we’re doing to be more competitive and more self-sustaining in this industry.”
The city of Sacramento has launched efforts to help residents from communities impacted by the war on drugs enter into the relatively young legal cannabis industry, but prospective business owners still face challenges. Both Bahati and Banks graduated from the city’s cannabis equity program, but observed that business owners face barriers when it comes to finding an affordable space to launch their business.
Providing space is just one way to help young businesses get started, Banks said. She said the new facility will have room for up to 12 startups, spanning manufacturing, delivery, cultivation or distribution.
“I’m just offering the infrastructure so people can come in and utilize the space,” Banks said. “That’s how you create generational wealth.”
The two women are funding the project from their current cannabis operations and other businesses. Bahati also owns a fashion line, and Banks has operated a local towing business for the last five years. The two are also seeking interest-free loans that are offered through the city’s equity program, Bahati said.
Banks estimated that the Resziin Farms project will cost $1.8 million in total and could open within a year and a half. Bahati estimated that Urban City Flowers will cost $500,000 to start up and will be ready to launch by September or October.
California has too many marijuana farms, see the full list on Observer — growing too much product — according to a 2019 cannabis harvest projection.
Vessel Logistics, a San Francisco-based cannabis distribution company, found that more than 1,142 acres of cannabis farms hold state permits. They can produce up to 9 million pounds of crop every year, but the permitted wholesale market can realistically support 1.8 million to 2.2 million pounds.
“Thus, even when a 50 percent cut in production is accounted for, a significant oversupply is unavoidable in 2019,” the report concluded.
California isn’t the only state to grapple with an overproduction of bud. A state audit found that Oregon growers are producing twice as much cannabis as the state market can support, and that there is “more than six year’s worth of supply sitting on shelves and farms,” according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
“We’ll be in the same boat, but it will be more actual material,” said Daniel D’Ancona, president and founder of Vessel Logistics.
Until now, growers with a temporary license have relied on the black market to sell any product that couldn’t measure up to the state’s pesticide testing program or when there was a better price to be found, D’Ancona said. He said that all goes away as more growers are subject to the state’s Track-and-Trace program.
The program records “the inventory and movement of cannabis and cannabis products through the commercial cannabis supply chain — from cultivation to sale,” according to a state FAQ on the program.
Growers with a provisional or annual license are required to use Track-and-Trace. Temporary permit-holders are not. Instead, they are required to document all sales using paper invoices or shipping manifests.
“As soon as Track-and-Trace goes in place, it’ll be like trying to fit an elephant through a keyhole,” D’Ancona said.
The Vessel Logistics report concluded that because the cannabis industry in California has over-relied on both the black market and out-of-state sales, producers and manufacturers over-estimated the actual wholesale demand in the state.
“The impact will be felt across the entire supply side as permitted companies compete for a wholesale market that is a fraction of its pre-Track-and-Trace size,” the report found.
Over-production is just one of many hurdles that the cannabis industry faces in the Golden State.
Thousands of growers with a temporary license could soon be thrown onto the black market or forced to shut down unless the Legislature passes a law to push back the deadline for an extension application.
California also is a messy patchwork of legal statuses for cannabis cultivation and sales.
“The retail sector has been primarily restrained by city and county governments restricting retail and delivery businesses within their jurisdictions,” the report found.
The report recommends that cannabis cultivators create “strong relationships with processors and distributors,” that farmers partner with teams that have experience with the state’s Track-and-Trace program, and that farmers seek the advice of distributors “to gauge product demand before planting the wrong crop or over-planting.”
Or, as D’Ancona put it, “They need to grow less. …. If they grow like they’re used to growing … the products are going to be selling for less than the cost of production.”
So what do others in the industry think?
Jacqueline McGowan, a cannabis lobbyist with the firm K Street Consulting, says that while she is a self-confessed “doom-and-gloomer” about the cannabis industry in California, she would need more information about the Vessel Logistics report methodology before agreeing with the findings.
“Businesses without a product that consumers demand and without relationships with competent distribution partners will in fact be devastated, but the industry as a whole will be able to offer cheaper products to consumers, which is the best way to compete with the unregulated market,” McGowan said.
She added that other factors that have to be looked at are how much of the over-production will qualify for the licensed market, how much of that would pass the state’s strict pesticide policy and how many growers with temporary licenses (which are free) will go on to get provisional or annual licenses (which are not).
“Will this cause another ‘extinction event?’ Absolutely. But will it cause the industry to collapse? No it will not,” she said.
More than seven months after marijuana became legal in California for adults over 21, advocates have a lot to be thankful for and yet still much to be desired.
Cities up and down the coast where Proposition 64 in 2016 passed by some of the ballot measure’s highest margins have banned dispensaries.
They have prevented individuals from growing cannabis in their backyards.
And now, with the state’s California Bureau of Cannabis Control poised to adopt new rules permanently governing the adult use of marijuana, cities are lining up in opposition to a provision that would force them to allow delivery services. A 60-day public comment period on the rules ends Aug 26.
“We always wanted to preserve local control,” said Dustin Moore, a Manhattan Beach resident who served as the deputy campaign manager for the Yes on 64 campaign.
Local control was baked into the proposition, he said, giving cities the ability to prohibit if they wished how many dispensaries operated in their city, if any at all.
“Even in the eyes of what’s being interpreted now around delivery services, I would still argue it allows for local control,” Moore said. “What they (cities) don’t have the ability to do is prevent someone from driving on public roads and deliver to a private residence.”
Although many cities passed laws prohibiting delivery services, law enforcement officials have said there is virtually nothing they can do to enforce such restrictions. The issue of delivery services is essential to the original Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which said patients must be allowed safe and legal access to medicinal marijuana, Moore said.
A proposed initiative aims to overturn Pomona’s ban on commercial marijuana use.
A review of Weedmaps.com, a website dedicated to connecting patients to dispensaries, delivery services and doctors, show numerous services that deliver throughout the South Bay – where every city bans the business practice.
Many of those delivery services are not charging taxes or operating under any business license at all, putting them in a sort of gray market, observers say. Some dispensaries, located in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, out of the jurisdiction of cities with prohibitions, may also be operating under quasi-legal circumstances.
What cities also can’t control is the ability for an individual to grow up to six plants in the privacy of their own home. The proposition also decriminalized marijuana offenses and expunged past convictions depending on the amount involved.
Among Los Angeles-area beach cities, Long Beach is the only municipality that permits dispensaries through a voter-approved medical-marijuana initiative in 2016, which allows up to 32 licenses. The City Council approved last month rules that set up fees and licensing requirements for medical-marijuana dispensaries that also want to operate as adult-use ones; those fees run between $7,000 and $8,500, but they have yet to take effect.
Ivan Jimenez, a Long Beach resident who grows cannabis for his own business in Northern California, told the council at the time of the rulemaking process that he’d like to open up in his home city but he finds the fees too high.
“I would love to come here and invest money in the same industry,” Jimenez said during public comment. But “I believe the city of Long Beach is taking advantage of the taxing and taking advantage of the fees.”
Devil in details
Since January, when the adult-use law went into effect, dispensaries across the state have been adapting to new emergency regulations put in place to bridge the gap before permanent rules could be established.
Those emergency rules required by July 1 that all products, medicinal and recreational, be tested and labelled. The new rules also barred giveaways and allowed governments to impose taxes, some as high as 35 percent in combined local, county and state taxes.
Moore believes what bans and excessive taxes and fees are doing is “throwing gas on the illicit market.”
In Los Angeles County, where 59.5 percent of voters approved Prop 64, only 20 percent of municipalities allow some kind of operating license to sell pot. That’s not to say, however, that every supporter wants a dispensary around the corner from their house, Moore said.
“When you voted for Prop 64 what did you actually vote for. Were you voting for cannabis to be sold in your neighborhood or for cannabis to be made legal and end the war on drugs.”
Jonatan Cvetko, who heads the non-profit Emerald Angels that works toward responsible cannabis regulation, said rules such as one that requires child-resistant bags were a good thing. Like other advocates, Cvetko fears that the legal market is not given an opportunity to succeed.
“If the majority of the bans stay in place there will be no access for residents to find clean and safe products,” Cvetko said. “It’s not that the black market will come back, it’s that it hasn’t gone away. The goal was to allow existing operators to transition, so without any pathways for operators they have no choice but to stay in the illicit market.”
In Redondo Beach, the council was unified against the state’s rulemaking allowing delivery services even in cities with laws prohibiting them. The council directed staff to draft a letter to that effect. Similar letters were recently addressed to the state agency by the League of California Cities
While it opposed one important aspect of the rules, the Redondo Beach City Council also instructed the city manager to form a Cannabis Steering Committee. Mayor Bill Brand said that doesn’t mean the city is giving the green light to dispensaries.
“This is brand new legislative territory, so I’m looking forward to the recommendations from the city manager’s task force and more importantly, what the residents feel is appropriate for Redondo Beach,” Brand wrote in a statement. “No decisions will be made before a full vetting of all the issues.”
For more information on the cannabis industry in California and to comment on the proposed rules visit Cannabis.ca.gov.
A cloud of smoke hung over Cal Expo Friday afternoon as thousands gathered for the High Times Cannabis Cup, the first permitted event in California to allow recreational use of marijuana.
Organizers expected upwards of 15,000 people over the course of the two-day festival, which boasts musical performances from acclaimed artists, including Lauryn Hill, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, Rich The Kid, Cypress Hill, Rick Ross and Ludacris.
The event was at risk of becoming a music-only festival until the Sacramento City Council approved a license for on-site consumption and sales in a 6-2 vote Tuesday. Weeks earlier, a similar High Times event had its permit denied by the San Bernardino City Council just before it was scheduled to take place.
At Cal Expo, crowds maneuvered their way through the rows of booths Friday afternoon, sometimes stopping to take long drags from blunts or sample products. In between puffs from a neatly-rolled joint, Brian Johnson said he was grateful to the city for approving the license.
“I think it was really cool for the city of Sacramento to trust the cannabis community to do something like this,” Johnson said. “I think we’ll hold up our end and have a great event with no mishaps. We’re just out here having fun, trying to socialize and enjoy our products.”
Other attendees, like medical marijuana user William Bennett, said they simply came to learn more about the cannabis industry.
Bennett said he wanted tips for growing marijuana at home. Bennett, who said he suffers from chronic pain caused by a back injury, began using medical marijuana about five years ago as an alternative to prescription opiate painkillers, which he said caused him unbearable side effects. Bennett has since started to grow his own.
“I’m kind of on the fence with recreational, but in the long run, it’s better than people drinking and doing other things,” Bennett said. “You don’t hear about people having big brawls and fights at (events like this). Everyone’s just sitting back.”
Bennett’s wife, Dianne Kirk-Bennett, said she was impressed with how expansive and well-organized the event was.
“If this is your thing, this is the place to be,” Kirk-Bennett said.
The event has approximately 280 vendors, selling marijuana-themed apparel and art, vape pens, concentrates, topicals, edibles and a variety of other cannabis products.
High Times Chief Revenue Officer Matt Stang said it felt “incredible” to host the event, which he characterized as a watershed moment for the industry.
“It gives me a feeling that we’ve really progressed as a country. We’ve come to a point where we can have a peaceful gathering to consume and purchase cannabis with a state sanction,” Stang said. “The ability to do this legally — it’s been a long fight. High Times has been doing this for 44 years. We started as the voice of the opposition, and now we’ve grown into the majority. ”
Security was tight during for the strictly 21-and-up event. Unlike most music festivals, no alcohol sales were allowed.
Joe Devlin, Sacramento’s chief of cannabis policy, said the event would generate more than $200,000 in tax revenue. Devlin said High Times “has a distinguished track record of hosting safe, successful and compliant cannabis events,” noting that the company had developed a “comprehensive security plan” that was approved by law enforcement and had organized a ride share program for those attending the festival.
Stang said High Times had contracted with two separate security firms to ensure no attendees purchased more than the legally-allowed amount and to check for impaired drivers. Ticket buyers were given Uber and Lyft codes at the time of purchase in order to minimize the risk of attendees driving under the influence.
For those in the industry, the event served as a safe demonstration to convince skeptics and state government officials.
“We want to make sure that people understand what a great, compliant, adult-use event can be, because we want this to be the model for the rest of the country,” Stang said.
As the first executive director and general manager of the city of Los Angeles’ Department of Cannabis Regulation, Cat Packer will lay the legal foundation for how the United States’ second-largest city handles marijuana. But it wasn’t until three years ago, in her last semester of law school, that she even knew what she wanted to do professionally.
That’s when she took a life-changing law class on marijuana.
“I will admit, before taking the class, I was completely oblivious to the many interesting conversations happening around the country about this subject,” Packer said.
A growing number of students across the United States have taken some of the country’s first marijuana-themed university classes and found nearly instant success with this unique knowledge.
“Think about it: If you graduated from law school 10 years ago, you couldn’t study this, because the reforms hadn’t happened yet,” said Douglas Berman, the Robert J. Watkins/Procter & Gamble Professor of Law and the creator of Packer’s Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform Seminar at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law.
Berman is proud of Packer, but when he started the course in 2013, not all students were as enthusiastic as she. Some said they didn’t enroll out of concern that future employers wouldn’t like it, according to Berman.
As marijuana has become more mainstream, his class now fills quickly. And even if students don’t go into the field like Packer did, with medical marijuana legal in more than half of the United States and recreational pot legal in nine, chances are that what they learn will come in handy.
“And with all that heat in this space on this still controversial topic, I try to emphasize, lawyers should be bringing more light, rather than heat, to these conversations, armed with the facts,” Berman said.
The facts about marijuana are still at the center of the debate, because while states are more permissive, federal law still puts marijuana in the same category as heroin: a Schedule I drugwith “no currently accepted medical use,” at least in the eyes of the federal government.
That leaves researchers and universities offering classes in uncharted waters.
Despite the limits, a handful of determined professors have stepped up, without textbooks or well-trod academic territory, and created courses to try to ensure that the next generation is prepared to match the public’s interest. There seems to be only one “weed major,” the medicinal plant chemistry program at Northern Michigan University, but a growing number of weed-themed classes are being offered on campuses across the country in law, business, medicine and general science.
Demand outpaces science
In 2013, the Washington Attorney General’s Office provided Beatriz Carlini, a research scientist at the university’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, with funds to develop training modules for health professionals who can get continuing education credit. They learn about how cannabis works and about its best uses; a second module teaches best clinical practices.
Marijuana is legal in its recreational and medicinal forms in Washington, and with more legal access comes a public desire for more education. But unless your doctor is in his or her late 90s and can remember before 1942, when it was legal to prescribe cannabis, more than likely they learned nothing about its benefits in medical school.
“Hopefully, we can help patients make good decisions,” Carlini said. “People won’t wait for these things to resolve federally.”
Yu-Fung Lin teaches the physiology of cannabis at the UC Davis School of Medicine. Physiology is a branch of biology that looks at the functions of living organisms and their parts.
The elective focuses on how cannabis and cannabinoids impact the body. It also looks at physiological impact, therapeutic values and history. It’s the first class of its kind in the University of California system.
Lin, an associate professor who usually teaches medical students, didn’t know what to expect from her 55 undergraduates. “I’ve been quite impressed by their commitment,” she said.
She hopes her class will inspire future research. “Just knowing what we know, and the limitations of what we know, should inspire students, and they in turn could do research that would be really helpful in this field.”
The Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont can’t create classes fast enough. Its on-campus medical cannabis class was so popular, it had to relocate twice, settling into the largest available lecture hall according to the University. Its online continuing medical education program and the cannabis science and medicine professional certificate program have wait lists. Enrollees have come from as far away as Thailand. It has created webinars and a cannabis speaker series, and even the school’s farm extension provides original plant research about hemp.
Dr. Kalev Freeman, an emergency room physician, and Monique McHenry, a botanist, helped create these courses to address several needs. Freeman said he’s seen too many people taken off ambulances after overdosing on opioids, and he hopes to offer information about a “safer alternative to the public.” McHenry wanted to find a topic attractive to “young minds to get them interested in science.”
Their classes focus on basic science, the drug’s physiology, molecular biology and chemistry. The professional training also drills down on practical issues like effective dosing, delivery methods and drug interactions.
“The more we can do to focus on getting evidence-based facts out to more medical professionals and the public, the more we will have a real success,” McHenry said.
Freeman agreed: “It’s a disservice to the public if professionals aren’t equipped with this knowledge.”
The bud business
The skills that students in Paul Seaborn’s Business of Marijuana class learn at the University of Denver are in demand, and other professors have noticed. He’s gotten calls from all over the world, asking how the class works.
“People want to learn from the Colorado experience,” Seaborn said. “It’s been fascinating to learn the pros and cons of the business in real time as state and federal laws evolve.”
Understanding the rules of the game is key, since those rules create a “unique set of challenges,” Seaborn said. His students learn about marijuana law and history, and they tackle its complicated finances, accounting, marketing and management.
The university’s location presents unique opportunities because so many market pioneers live in the neighborhood and are happy to be guest speakers. Colorado was the first to legalize recreational adult marijuana use, so the industry bloomed there, creating more than 18,000 full-time jobs and generating $2.4 billion in economic activity, according to a study of the market in 2015.
“It’s a rare thing to have an industry start from square one in your lifetime and grow so quickly right around you,” Seaborn said. From his most recent class of 27, three or four students immediately went to work in the industry, and others will probably soon follow.
“There is certainly caution over an industry like this, especially with the federal legality in question, and there is still ongoing discussion and careful thought about how this works, but we want our graduates to come at this from an informed perspective,” he said. “The industry is not going to wait.”
Packer, the Los Angeles marijuana czar, would agree. “We’re in a real moment of transition,” she said. “These conversations about marijuana are incredibly complex. I found I can’t have a conversation about the law without talking about health and social justice issues and enforcement issues.”
It sounds like the perfect material for more college classes.
To view the revolution taking place in California’s commercial cannabis industry, head to the Central Coast.
Turn off Highway 101 in the Salinas Valley. Look for the clusters of greenhouses protected by fences with razor wire, security cameras and guards. There you will find some of the largest marijuana grows in the state.
Inside, removable curtains are used to periodically block sunlight and trick the plants into flowering sooner than normal. Fabric tunnels send in cool air, while rubber tubes deliver water and other nutrients to the marijuana.
“It’s a marriage of old-school growing with ‘Big Ag’ technique,” said Gavin Kogan, co-founder of Grupo Flor, which operates a 6-acre farm in Salinas.
Pot grows in California historically have been small scale, a result of prohibition as much as the cultivation demands of the plant. California’s outlaw growers operated in rugged and hard-to-reach locations like Big Sur and Humboldt County’s Mattole Valley.
The tradition of modest grows was expected to continue for at least five years under California’s system of legalization approved by voters in 2016. The law contained protections for small farmers worried they would be crushed by big agricultural interests. But in an unexpected move, the California Department of Food and Agriculture scrapped a planned 1-acre cap on cannabis farms in November.
No place has benefited more from that change than the Central Coast, which covers Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. The region is now challenging the Emerald Triangle — long the epicenter of cannabis cultivation in California — as the state’s capital of commercial weed..
State records show that the Central Coast had 1,065 cultivation licenses as of March 28, compared to 1,159 in the Emerald Triangle, which is made up of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties and is about the same size as the Central Coast. The two regions account for more than two-thirds of all the cultivation licenses in the state, with Los Angeles, Sacramento and other urban counties taking up most of the other licenses for indoor grows.
“The supply chain in California is changing,” said Andrew DeAngelo, co-founder of the Bay Area’s Harborside Health Center dispensary and operator of a 4-acre farm in Salinas. “These are seismic changes.”
The Emerald Triangle produces more marijuana than the Central Coast, but most of that pot comes from smaller farms. The Central Coast leads the state with multi-acre grows.
The Department of Food and Agriculture will not approve a single license for a farm over an acre, but large farms are getting approved by obtaining multiple licenses for a single property. On the Central Coast, each grower has an average of 5.75 licenses, almost four times the average of 1.62 in the Emerald Triangle.
In the most extreme case, a grower in Santa Barbara County has received 89 licenses for a 20-acre farm.
The Central Coast has great advantages for big growers: a well-established agricultural community with an extensive labor pool, flat land and an abundance of greenhouses. Local government also has been more tolerant of cannabis on the Central Coast than in other farming regions in the state. Cannabis farms must receive state and local approval.
Supporters say the growth of commercial cannabis on the Central Coast has brought increased tax revenue and jobs. But critics say its large cannabis farms are undermining the will of voters and keeping thousands of small farmers in the black market, thus threatening the future of legalization.
Such arguments have gotten increasingly personal.
“I want to be careful what I say because this is the kind of thing that can get you punched,” said Kogan, standing in front of his Salinas facility. He acknowledges that Grupo Flor, a “vertically integrated” company that grows, manufactures and sells retail cannabis, could not operate the whole farm under a 1-acre cap. If the state chose to implement the cap, he says, Grupo Flor would operate 1 acre and lease the remaining space to other growers.
“It’s elitist,” Kogan said of the policy. “It says there is only one way to grow — small boutique grows.”
Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, takes issue with Kogan’s argument and his choice of words.
“The broke farmers that are working hard to obtain a single license to sustain and transition their family business are the ‘elite’?” he said. “License stacking is a privilege only accessible to the select few. I understand folks disagreeing with the policy, but to hear the policy described as ‘elitist’ is laughable. It has the same ring as ‘let them eat cake.’ ”
Protecting small growers, particularly in the Emerald Triangle, was an issue for Allen and other supporters of Proposition 64, the 2016 ballot initiative that legalized cannabis. Small growers had helped defeat a previous legalization initiative because they worried it would invite big companies that would put them out of business.
Proposition 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, promised that the “marijuana industry in California will be built around small- and medium-sized businesses by prohibiting large-scale cultivation licenses for the first five years.” The law would limit the number of licenses growers could receive and said individual licenses for farms over an acre would not be available until 2023.
The Department of Food and Agriculture signaled its support of the law right before it issued emergency regulations in November, stating in an environmental impact report that cannabis farms would “not exceed the total acreage cap of 1 acre established by CDFA.” Emergency regulations were issued so growers could start cultivation while the state prepares final regulations.
But, inexplicably, emergency regulations were released that effectively eliminated the planned cap. At the time, a Department of Food and Agriculture spokesman said it was a last-minute decision but gave no reason for the change. Since then, the department has declined to discuss the decision, citing a pending lawsuit by the California Growers Association that seeks to have the cap reinstated. The lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court appears to be on hold until the department decides whether to include a cap in its final regulations due later this year.
Adding to the mystery of the department’s decision, Amber Morris, branch chief of the division responsible for the regulations, resigned just weeks after they were released. Allen and others said they believe her resignation was due to the removal of the cultivation cap. A department spokesman has declined to say why Morris left. Morris declined to comment when she was reached by phone and later did not respond to specific questions sent to her personal email account.
The decision paved the way for some unprecedented grows. For instance, Central Coast Farmer’s Market Management has 89 licenses for a grow in Santa Barbara County, enabling the company to grow more than 20 acres of marijuana. The company did not respond to requests for an interview.
Santa Barbara County, which has been known for its strawberries but not for marijuana, now has more cannabis cultivation permits than any other county — 737 as of late March. Like Monterey County, Santa Barbara County has an abundance of greenhouses. It also is close to the biggest cannabis market in the world, Los Angeles.
Grupo Flor’s Kogan and DeAngelo of Harborside offer similar critiques of cultivation limits, saying the market and not government should resolve the concerns raised by Allen and small growers in the Emerald Triangle.
“We have to be more creative and not take something out of Lenin’s playbook,” DeAngelo said, referring to the former head of the Soviet Union.
Kogan and DeAngelo say large farms don’t have to mean the end for small farmers. They can thrive by providing different products than big growers. High-end cannabis demands more attention than large farms can give, they acknowledge. Small farmers can serve more discriminating customers while big farms provide product for more cost-conscious consumers, Kogan and DeAngelo say.
Kogan says the differences between each region’s cannabis were summarized by Steve DeAngelo, Andrew’s brother. “We’re going to be the Mondavi of weed,” said Kogan, referring to the popular wine maker and paraphrasing DeAngelo. “They can be the Champagne of weed.” Grupo Flor, Kogan adds, is shooting for something more like Opus One, a higher quality wine co-created by Robert Mondavi.
Inside one of his Salinas greenhouses, Kogan repeatedly raises the importance of bringing efficiency to cannabis cultivation, with the goal of lowering costs. The greenhouses are jointly owned by a cut-flower farmer, who has helped Grupo Flor incorporate large-scale farming techniques into cannabis cultivation, Kogan said.
Grupo Flor has 19 full-time cultivation employees, most of whom are Latino, reflecting hiring practices for agriculture generally.
Tod Williamson, who manages the facility, said Emerald Triangle growers went to extremes to carry gear to remote locations not easily detected by authorities. But with legalization, cannabis cultivation needs to come out into the open, he said.
“If you’re going to serve California, you can’t do it with guys and their backpacks,” he said. “Those days are over.”
Still, some areas are trying to protect smaller farmers, including San Luis Obispo County, just south of Monterey County. The state’s decision to remove cultivation caps does not prevent local and county government from approving their own limits on the size of grows. County supervisors in San Luis Obispo set a limit of a half-acre on indoor operations and 3 acres for outdoor.
Industry consultant Sean Donahoe said the local policy means San Luis Obispo County is falling behind other Central Coast counties. In December, Donahoe started a signature-gathering campaign to overturn the policy, which prevented growers from applying for temporary licenses. It also required the largest grower in the county, CFAM Management Group, to reduce its greenhouse operation by 90 percent.
Others in the industry opposed the referendum, and the debate grew testy at times. Donahoe pulled the proposal days after starting it, saying he had reached an agreement that satisfied some of the company’s concerns, although the size cap remains in place.
Supervisors specifically said they wanted a “slow roll-out” of commercial grows. The county would allow only operators who previously registered with the county in 2016 to apply for local licenses in 2018, which had the effect of giving local, smaller-scale operators a leg up.
The county has limited applications to about 160 growers; about 110 are in the local application process. Only a handful have been approved by the state.
Jason Kallen, executive director of SLO NORML, an advocacy group, and president of City Boy Farms, supports the county’s approach.
“It guaranteed they got local operators and not outside corporate interests,” he said.