Patrick Kennedy, a recovering drug addict, former Rhode Island congressman and member of the nation’s most famous political family, is spearheading a national campaign to thwart legalization of recreational marijuana.
Hezekiah Allen, a former Humboldt County marijuana farmer like his parents and grandparents, is a Sacramento lobbyist who heads the state’s largest group of cannabis growers.
They aren’t exactly political bedfellows, but the two share a concern over California’s Proposition 64 on the November ballot: Both believe it would open the door to Big Marijuana corporate dominance, threatening the culture and livelihood of the small-scale farms entrenched for decades on the North Coast.
Kennedy, magazine editor David Frum and former drug policy adviser to the Obama administration Kevin Sabet, co-founded Smart Approaches to Marijuana, known as SAM. Sabet said with no limit on the size of legal pot grows, Proposition 64 “will transform the landscape of rural California with huge plantations of marijuana.”
“It’s Big Tobacco reincarnated,” he said. “It’s a smokescreen for big business.”
SAM, with a meager $2 million campaign war chest, is opposing legalization measures in California and four other states, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine, all up for a vote on Nov. 8.
With a $64,000 donation, the group is the single largest contributor to California’s “No on Prop. 64” campaign. Compare that to the $2.5 million put up by the Yes on 64 campaign’s leading donor, tech billionaire Sean Parker. It’s a David versus Goliath cash mismatch: just over $200,000 total raised by the anti-legalization campaign compared with at least $6.6 million for the pro-pot group.
Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, would allow people 21 and over to possess an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants at home for personal use. State analysts say it would generate up to $1 billion in taxes, and a recent poll says more than 60 percent of voters support it.
Allen’s 700-member Cannabis Growers Association is divided almost equally between “yes” and “no” on the measure, with a large undecided bloc. But he freely acknowledges a common stand with SAM against the economic “green rush” that both say Proposition 64 would unleash.
“We just can’t have those giants take over the marketplace,” Allen said. “We don’t want anything-goes, free-market competition. That’s what gave us Joe Camel cigarettes being marketed to teens.”
Allen estimates there are about 53,000 marijuana grows in the state, employing about 280,000 people. A 2,500-square-foot outdoor garden is commercially viable, he said.
Proposition 64’s commercial cultivation licensing scheme allows a Type 5 license with no limit on garden size. Those permits would not be available until 2023, giving small growers a five-year shield from wide-open competition.
California’s medical cannabis law, approved by the Legislature last year, limits outdoor gardens to 1 acre.
Sabet, who said he will be in California campaigning against the proposition after Labor Day, agreed the North Coast’s traditional family pot farmers have reason to be worried.
“It’s going to put mom-and-pop grows out of business,” he said, calling the measure — championed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom — “a corporate power grab from Wall Street and Silicon Valley.”
SAM plans to raise more money, and Sabet thinks a large Hispanic voter turnout against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will bolster his effort to defeat legalization.