How to regulate the business of cannabis as it emerges from underground operation isn’t the only issue facing local communities in California.
As growing and selling marijuana comes into the open, banking with large sums of cash, marijuana odor mitigation, diversified farming, and even growers giving to charity are issues emerging as this enormous industry tries to integrate into the community.
“California is, hands down, the leader in this industry,” said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of California Growers Association. He is Humboldt County born and raised. “There are 53,000 independent growers with 280,000 employees that are paid an above-average wage. We are already global leaders, with tens of billions of dollars in sales. This is a unique opportunity for a multibillion dollar industry in the hands of individual farmers.”
The 700-member trade association focuses on promoting public policies to foster a sustainable, healthy and legal cannabis industry. He pointed out that cannabis is already a commercially active industry.
Allen was part of a panel discussion at Cannabis Impact was an event Aug. 17 at SOMO Village in Rohnert Park, presented by the Sustainable North Bay Organizing Committee.
Also on the panel was Terry Garrett, co-managing member of Sustaining Technologies and Sonoma County GoLocal Coop. He noted five studies on spending in large local industries: Sonoma County consumers annually consume $50 million in wine, $68 million in beer and an estimated $126 million in cannabis.
Allen said the figure on cannabis spending is likely much higher.
The California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, or MMRSA, was passed in October. State and local governments have until 2018 to set up a new comprehensive regulation and licensing scheme for the medical marijuana industry.
Those creating the regulations have a difficult task because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, and the Drug Enforcement Agency shows no signs of backing down.
Colorado, which has legalized medical and recreational cannabis, is still learning from California, said Boulder Chamber of Commerce President and CEO John Tayer at the event. He encouraged communities not to wait for the state to issue regulations. Rather, he urged local action, then see what happens at the state level and make adjustments later.
“Work with the industry leaders. Have them be at the table for the discussion, not just the lawyers and lawmakers,” he said.
A major challenge in Colorado has been how to handle the banking, when growers mostly deal in cash. Some banks are willing to take the risk, but fear having to disclose information to the federal government.
“Businesses need to have a certainty of safety,” Tayer said. “That’s not easy when it’s still seen as illegal at the federal level. Some sophisticated growers have relationships with bankers, and some banks are looking at ways to deal with it, but it’s a challenge.”
The federal government said no to a proposed charter credit union for the industry, he said.
Tayer said the amount of tax revenue collected from cannabis in Boulder has not been a panacea. At $8.4 million in 2015 it is still a major benefit, but there needs to be more sophisticated regulation, he said.
As more cannabis businesses are legitimately recognized, communities can also expect more in the way of philanthropy, similar to the generosity expressed by the wine industry. Tayer noted growers in Boulder are sponsoring charity events.