Sonoma County marijuana growers urged to form united front
Sonoma County marijuana growers came together Sunday near Sebastopol to talk about how their industry can come out of the shadows, flex some political muscle and position itself for a day when its product becomes legalized for all adults.
About 200 people gathered at the Sebastopol Grange for the first fundraiser of the newly formed Sonoma County Growers Alliance.
Speakers exhorted listeners to get involved in both lobbying the Legislature and in electing local officials who are sympathetic to their industry. They pointed to the wine industry, the county’s top legal crop, as a model to follow in developing a high-quality cachet and in influencing both state and local politics.
The message, said Craig Litwin, a former Sebastopol mayor, should be, “We’re here. We’re participating. We have money and we’re not going away.”
Litwin, a founder of Citizens for Responsible Access, a pro-marijuana political action committee, said the flip side to getting recognized as legitimate businesses is that growers won’t be able to flaut environmental regulations by planting pot directly along creeks or diverting stream water need for endangered fish. “I’m sorry, those days are gone,” he said.
California voters in 1996 passed an initiative allowing marijuana use for medical purposes. But federal law doesn’t recognize such use, and until recently federal officials have taken an aggressive stance toward pot cultivation and sales.
Many present Sunday are looking ahead to 2016 for a possible state ballot initiative that would legalize recreational use of the drug, as has been done in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon. Speakers at Sunday’s event said that in the event such a measure passes, laws should be in place to make sure that the small growers who now form the industry will be able to compete against large companies that may try to enter the market.
Sebastopol Councilman Robert Jacob, the executive director of two Peace in Medicine marijuana dispensaries in the county, said the time has come for the growers and related businesses to “come out of the closet and say who we are.” By forming alliances, he said, “that’s how we effect change.”
Speakers noted some growers still fear prosecution. Tawnie Logan, the alliance’s executive director, joked that growers had told her they would be wearing fake mustaches and dark glasses Sunday.
And talk Sunday acknowledged the shadowy nature that still surrounds pot cultivation. One panel’s advice on operating a business in a “changing landscape”: If you haven’t been reporting your revenues to the IRS, go first to an attorney so he can hire an accountant who then will be immune from testifying against you under attorney-client privilege.
In a brief interview, Logan acknowledged that for 15 years she helped in the cultivation of cannabis in the county. Through the alliance, which is still awaiting its official federal designation as a nonprofit, she plans to provide regular gatherings to educate growers about key issues. The alliance also will provide a platform to “help influence our economic future.”
Sunday’s speakers included Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, who was credited with not only taking the first marijuana bill to the Assembly agriculture committee but also winning its passage by the committee and the entire body. The legislation is now being considered by the state Senate.
Wood said the county’s marijuana growers appeared “three steps behind” those north of here.
He expressed surprise to find so many of the ?region’s growers backing his efforts to place ?themselves under government oversight. Even so, he expected that like other business people, in a few years they would be asking him, “Dammit, what is with all these regulations?”
Contact Staff Writer ?Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: In a previous version of this story, we misstated the title of Councilman Robert Jacob. He is the executive director of two Peace in Medicine dispensaries. The article above has been altered to reflect this correction.