Gavin Newsom Goes to Humboldt, Visits Cannabis Farm, Mingles with Growers
California’s lieutenant governor paid a rare visit on Friday to Garberville, center of life in southern Humboldt County, to perform an even rarer act: to listen to cannabis cultivators, hash makers, edibles bakers and other marijuana industry workers talk about what kind of legalized recreational marketplace would work for them.
And by all appearances, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), the Humboldt County sheriff and other decision makers — some of whom are sitting on the same American Civil Liberties Union panel as Newsom, which will in 60 days present draft recommendations for a 2016 legalization initiative — did indeed listen to a room full of pot growers and heed their concerns.
That alone, a give-and-take inconceivable less than 20 years ago, is noteworthy. So too is how Newsom spent the morning before the packed meeting at an auditorium in Garberville: touring a local cannabis farm, asking questions and listening to the growers’ opinions.
The meeting was a big deal in the Emerald Triangle. Ahead of time, industry players took to social media to drum up attendance. And it worked: a beyond-capacity crowd of 200 people — including representatives from Aficionado Seeds, the Emerald Growers Association, California Cannabis Voice, and many, many more operations big and small — stuffed the Redwood Playhouse in Garberville for a chance to say their peace in front of the decision-makers.
To say that the former San Francisco mayor charmed the audience is an understatement. His star power was palpable. Even the other elected officials on hand to speak to the growers admitted as such. “This is like following Moses,” one said.
So what did Moses have to offer? Other than declaring the medical marijuana system in place in California “broken” and reiterating what most know already — that lawmakers in Sacramento are still, after almost 20 years, still unwilling or unable to engage on the issue — Newsom had not much more than a listening ear.
Newsom, Huffman, Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey and others dutifully listened to growers’ concerns: that licensing under a new recreational system cannot be too expensive, that growers or vendors transporting cannabis to market need a legal protection, that small family farms in the Emerald Triangle need to be involved in any legal cannabis market.
Good ideas as well as concerns flowed from the cannabis industry. Hash-maker extraordinaire Frenchy Cannoli recommended instituting a regional certification system similar to how France has categorized and certified wine. After all, another speaker noted, the word “Humboldt” is synonymous with top-flight cannabis — so why not take advantage?
These are all good ideas. And right now, Newsom and his ACLU panel are taking it all under advisement. In 60 days, the panel will issue draft recommendations to any parties wishing to craft a ballot initiative for next year.
In the meantime, the Legislature in Sacramento is still wrestling with the state’s billion-dollar medical marijuana industry… something with which, to date, lawmakers seem incapable or unwilling of dealing.
“We have a problem,” said Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey. “We have a legislature that does not want to engage on this issue. We have a paralyzed approach to this.”
Just how far apart lawmakers and the formerly lawless growers are was obvious. Huffman and Downey both took lumps for using the word “marijuana.” They apologized for it and switched to “cannabis,” but offered caution: in the halls of government in Sacramento, nobody knows what “cannabis” is.
That could be a problem. But whatever it’s called, there was one prevailing sentiment.
“Please keep Humboldt green,” the crowd said. “We do not want to see our livelihoods stolen from us.”
To hear the entire 90-minute event, visit KMUD’s archives here