Illinois Extends Craft Grower Deadline

Regulators in Illinois have extended the operational deadline for some craft cannabis growers in the state. 

The state’s Department of Agriculture said that its administrative rules “allow for craft growers to receive an operational extension for good cause shown, at the Department’s discretion,” and as such, it “has granted an operational extension to all craft grower license holders due to a number of factors, including ongoing Covid-19 impacts and supply chain issues.”

Under the state’s adult-use cannabis program, a “craft grower license allows the holder to cultivate, dry, cure and package cannabis,” according to Illinois Cannabiz Attorneys, which offers a primer on the license:

“To apply for this license, one must submit a completed application to the Department of Agriculture. The amount of cannabis a license holder can grow is limited by square footage. A craft grower may have up to 5,000 square feet of canopy space for marijuana plants in the flowering stage. It should be noted that this space only includes the space occupied by the plants and does not include any aisles or walkways in between the plants. This amount may be increased over time in increments of 3,000 square feet based on the department’s determination of market need, capacity, and the license holder’s history of compliance. The largest space that will be allowed by the Department will be 14,000 square feet for plants in the flowering stage.”

The Department of Agriculture said that it had “previously authorized an operational deadline extension for 2021 Craft Growers which required them to become operational by March 1, 2023,” but that it “is now authorizing an additional extension applicable to all 2021 Craft Growers, extending their operational deadline to February 1, 2024.”

Legal adult-use cannabis sales took effect in Illinois in 2020, the result of a bill signed by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker the previous year.

“As the first state in the nation to fully legalize adult-use cannabis through the legislative process, Illinois exemplifies the best of democracy: a bipartisan and deep commitment to better the lives of all of our people,” Pritzker said at the time. “Legalizing adult-use cannabis brings an important and overdue change to our state, and it’s the right thing to do. This legislation will clear the cannabis-related records of nonviolent offenders through an efficient combination of automatic expungement, gubernatorial pardon and individual court action. I’m so proud that our state is leading with equity and justice in its approach to cannabis legalization and its regulatory framework. Because of the work of the people here today and so many more all across our state, Illinois is moving forward with empathy and hope.”

The state hasn’t looked back ever since. In his “state of the state” address last month, Pritzker said that marijuana legalization “has created more than 30,000 jobs since 2020, and Illinois is home to the country’s most diverse cannabis industry and some of the largest companies.” 

In January, Pritzker’s administration touted a record-setting year for cannabis sales in 2022, saying that “adult use cannabis dispensaries sold $1,552,324,820.37 worth of product, an increase of more than 12% from 2021 and 131% from 2020, the first year cannabis sales were first legally allowed in Illinois.”

“When I signed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act into law in 2019, we set out on an ambitious goal: to create the most equitable and economically prosperous cannabis industry in the nation. Our data from 2022 shows that we are well on our way towards making that idea a reality,” Pritzker said in a statement in January. “Not only did we break our previous sales record by more than 12% with a total of more than $1.5 billion, we also saw the first of our social equity adult use cannabis dispensaries open their doors for business—paving the way for an even stronger 2023.”

The post Illinois Extends Craft Grower Deadline appeared first on High Times.

The Main Strain: Magnum PI by TreeHawk Farms

When it comes time for TreeHawk Farms CEO Jason Olsen to determine the strain allotments for his indoor grow space, he always saves plenty of room for Magnum PI. A top seller for his Chimacum, WA-based business, Magnum PI is a citrus-heavy sativa cross of Blue Hawaiian and Agent Orange. According to Olsen, the strain has become quite popular with local consumers looking for a functional, daytime high.

“If I’m going to a [Seattle] Seahawks’ game, or if we’re going to sit down and have a cup of coffee, I’d be smoking Magnum,” Olsen says. “It gives you that ‘happy day’ feeling, like the sun’s out. It’s a euphoric, stimulating sativa high, which a lot of people love.”

Magnum PI is a citrus-heavy sativa cross of Blue Hawaiian and Agent Orange.

Proof of Magnum PI’s popularity in Washington is evidenced by the fact that Olsen and his small staff of ten are constantly seeking to restock supply of the strain to the 30 or so stores within the state that currently carry TreeHawk’s products. A holdover from Washington’s days as a medical-only market, Magnum PI is believed to have originated with Seahorse Gardens, a breeder near Puget Sound. 

For the past five-and-a-half years, however, consumers eager to taste this explosion of orange-centric terpenes and enjoy the ensuing, energizing high, have had only one option: Olsen. In truth, it was his great-grandfather and grandfather who first put his family on their current path when they bought the property that’s now TreeHawk Farms back in the 1950s and started a dairy farm. Eventually, diminishing returns and deaths in the family left Olsen, 38, to determine what course to pursue next.

TreeHawk Farms CEO Jason Olsen says Magnum PI gives a “euphoric, stimulating sativa high.”

“Small dairies had started to go out of business,” Olsen says. “There were eight dairies in this little valley that all shared a milk truck. We were all land-rich and money poor. Once my uncle passed away, and with costs around the business going up, it just didn’t seem like it could be profitable going forward, so we closed down.”

From Patient to Producer

As a lifelong cannabis consumer, Olsen says he applied for and received a medical card with the state as soon as the opportunity first arose. During his time as a medical patient, Olsen recalls observing the potential for a retail cannabis market and quickly realizing that if he wanted to act, the time was fast approaching. Seeing cannabis as a viable way to reinvent his family’s property with a new agricultural slant, Olsen and his wife made the decision to use their life savings to start TreeHawk Farms.

Magnum PI is a cultivar that’s unique to TreeHawk Farms.

Despite a lengthy application process, battles over water usage and a spate of other bureaucratic hurdles, their efforts would ultimately prove highly successful. 

Today, Olsen oversees an indoor production flow that yields about 60 pounds of cannabis each month. In addition to perennial favorite Magnum PI, the farm’s also renowned for their Candyland Cookies strain, which combines two classics in the form of Granddaddy Purple and Bay Platinum Cookies. Other notable strains on the TreeHawk menu include Chocolate Thai and The Wills, although Olsen acknowledges that his Magnum PI is likely a cut above the rest.

TreeHawk products (L) and a trimmed nug of Magnum PI that has “bag appeal,” according to Olsen (R).

“It has the bag appeal,” he says. “It’s covered in sugar. It’s just a really beautiful plant. It really liked our feeding regimen and everything just fell into place.”

Room to Grow

Currently encompassing a trio of 600-square-foot grow rooms, each with 21 lights, TreeHawk Farms will soon expand its operations to include a fourth room, which Olsen confirms will include a whole row of what amounts to a third of the room’s potential production—to growing Magnum. The reasoning is simple: people just can’t get enough of it. 

Magnum PI is laden with trichomes.

“A lot of people get strain-tired,” Olsen says. “With Candyland, I’m probably going to back off on that a little bit because people just want something different after a while. I haven’t had to do that at all with Magnum. I sell out, so I have to divvy up our harvest to spread it out to our stores as best we can, but everyone will take twice as much Magnum as any other strain, without blinking. The demand is still there.”

What is it about this tropically flavored, funk-forward blast of cerebral stimulation that makes it such a mainstay for Washington State cannabis regulars? Perhaps it’s the cut, maybe it’s the care that goes into cultivating it but most likely it’s a potent combination of both. After all, beyond the caché that comes with growing rarer, more exotic strains, there’s a family legacy inherent to TreeHawk Farms that clearly informs not only its craft approach but the quality of the finished product. 

And for now, Olsen is proud to say that the reputation of Magnum PI can be directly traced to his efforts to bring his family’s farm back to life under the auspices of his new cannabis enterprise and its star strain.

“Honestly, there’s no one else that has this particular strain,” Olsen says, “So, if you’ve smoked Magnum PI in the last five years, you got it through TreeHawk Farms.”

Strain: According to Olson, the name is a play on the strain’s lineage: Blue Hawaiian x Agent Orange. It reminded him of a Hawaiian private investigator, like Tom Selleck from the TV show Magnum P.I.

Breeder: Seahorse Gardens in Seattle, Washington.

Type: Sativa Hybrid

Genetics: Blue Hawaiian x Agent Orange

Taste: A citrusy orange-lemon flavor with a little tropical earthy funk on the back end.

Flowering:  9-10 weeks

The post The Main Strain: Magnum PI by TreeHawk Farms appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Surviving as a Craft Cannabis Farmer

The time for reckoning has come. The challenges have become huge in the California cannabis market for the small craft farmers, distributors and dispensaries. This current “extinction event” is the toughest one yet, and farmers and companies are dropping like flies. The prevailing question is: Who is actually making any money along this fragile supply chain? And it keeps going back to one place: the government. 

The steep taxes imposed on all segments of the chain are wiping companies out, while the state-reported revenue for the first quarter of 2022 at $294.5 million, including $152 million in cannabis excise tax, $36.3 million in cultivation tax and $106.2 million in sales tax. Granted, the farmers are no longer being charged cultivation tax for the time being, yet dispensaries are using that as an excuse to pay the farmers less for their wholesale flowers. Everyone is hurting.

The Real Cost of Cultivation in California

The stories circulating among the Emerald Triangle are frightening. Too many brands are either still sitting on pounds of flowers they never could sell last year, or they ended up selling for as low as $50 per pound wholesale to distributors and dispensaries. The primary beneficiaries of this dilemma are the compassion programs, as literally tons have been donated to veteran, prisoner and patient causes across the state of California. Otherwise, it’s a race to the bottom—we’ve heard some farmers selling branded wholesale flowers for as low as $3-$5 per 1/8th which is simply not sustainable. 

Meanwhile, big corporate grows in other parts of California crank out thousands of pounds of mediocre greenhouse-grown cannabis which they can easily sell for very low prices to struggling dispensaries anxious to feature inexpensive products on their shelves. These mega growers also have access to their own professional teams, which include many accountants and compliance experts. But on a small craft farm, it’s just us—the farmers—doing most of that work. 

Jacob Carlson, Founder & CEO of Revive with his wife.

Here at Swami Select in Mendocino County, we finally bit the bullet a few months ago and figured out what it costs for us to put our flowers into jars and get them to market. The harsh reality is that we lose approximately $4 per 1/8th jar—no, that’s not a profitable way to run a business.

Some Craft Cannabis Farmers Take a Hands-On Approach

I’ll get to our solutions later in this story, but first, let me share what other farmers are considering as ways to cope in these uncertain times. The common thread that ran through all their comments was this: fewer employees. 

Jacob Carlson, founder of Revive chocolate and hashish brand in Nevada City, says he must get his “boots on the streets and do it all myself.” Jacob feels strongly that it’s about establishing relationships with store owners and going there in person, not sending sales representatives. 

“They have to understand that if we don’t survive, all they’ll have is Budweiser-type brands on their shelf,” Carlson says. 

Chiah Rodrigues of Arcanna brand sungrown flowers in Mendocino County agrees. 

“It’s just us—my husband Jamie does the breeding, nursery and cultivation while I do parts of cultivation, Metrc, licensing, marketing, sales accounting, packaging and more,” she says. 

By wearing so many hats, can they survive? 

Nikki and Swami with some of Northern California’s craft cannabis farmers.

“We’ve been living off savings to compensate for the cannabis we haven’t been able to sell, and we give a lot to compassion causes,” Rodrigues says. “The lowest we sold at last year was $50/lb and the best price we got for wholesale bulk was $400/lb. I hung on too long and was stubborn, thinking that prices would go back up, but it didn’t happen.” 

Chiah is working so hard and yet not paying herself—instead, she’s using funds to cover the price of jars, labels, pre-roll tubes and annual permits, among other business necessities. “We keep costs as low as possible, but we can’t cut them anymore,” she laments. 

Look for New Opportunities

It was evident at the recent December 2022 Emerald Cup Harvest Ball that far fewer craft farmers were in attendance, either with booths featuring their brands or as general ticket holders. In response, Producer Tim Blake generously set up a lottery and donated 10 booth spaces to winning small (under 10,000-square-foot canopy) farms from various legacy counties and another eight at discounted prices. This ensured that craft farmers were represented and showed support for organizations such as the Origins Council and other people fighting for direct sales. 

“We need as many farmer markets and events as possible to provide access,” Blake said. “While it is sad to see so many brands go down as we lose the majority of them, the truth is that the ones who hold on will do much better [in the] next year or two because there won’t be much competition.” 

Sad, but true. So, how does a struggling small farmer or small cannabis business hold on? 

Nat Pennington and his team at Humboldt Seed Company are thinking outside the box by introducing Scratch-N-Sniff packaging. Each bag of flowers features a small circle you scratch to smell the actual terpenes extracted from the same batch of cannabis contained in the package. That style of innovative thinking is what Monica Laughter, co-founder of the House of Harlequin in Nevada County who also worked for 20 years in financial tech, claims is the key to success. “The only way to survive in the current cannabis market is to be a disrupter—identify where the market isn’t working and create solutions by changing biz models,” she wisely recommends. 

Craft cannabis farmers at the Harvest Ball 2022.

Joyce Cenali, Chief Operating Officer at Sonoma Hills Farm, feels that “Retailers need to welcome more sungrown onto their shelves and educate to appeal to conscious consumerism. More and more, people want to know where their product comes from.”

Cenali says price integrity is imperative. “Rather than always responding to ‘market driven’ prices which are driven by the excess supply from less quality leaning inputs, the very first consideration in measuring margin associations in the go-to-market analysis should be: Pay a fair price for my inputs to ensure that California’s unique atmosphere continues.”

While the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) recently adopted a consolidated regulatory package that promises to simplify regulations on small farms, it remains a struggle. At Swami Select, we agree with Laughter’s “disrupter” theory. As we watch our fellow farmers quit, sell properties and move away while prices continue to drop and dispensaries and distros don’t pay the farmers. It is a sorry scenario indeed. We’ve decided to buck the trend of lowering prices just to make a sale and instead raise consciousness about the value of our craft cannabis, which should cost more because it’s the purest you can find. We no longer can lose money on every sale, and so we have chosen to raise our wholesale prices to a level where we can at least break even.

Nikki Lastreto (center) with Tim Blake (left) and Taylor Blake (right) at the Emerald Cup Harvest Ball.

We have faith that the cannoisseurs out there will always want “The Best” and be willing to pay more for it. To that end, we’re partnering up with stores that respect and understand that. Our goal is to educate the consumers, explain the value of our certifications (Clean Green, DEM Pure and soon OCal) and encourage consumers to purchase from bona fide dispensaries to ensure purity and quality rather than from their “guy down the street” on the traditional market. We’ve also launched Club Swami, a direct home delivery service for members who not only want top-shelf flowers but also want to be part of a burgeoning community of like-minded stoners. 

Time to Take Action

So, what are the key takeaway suggestions for small cannabis businesses to survive? We need fewer employees, farmers markets, direct sales, education, certifications and honest pricing. We need a call to action about what consumers can do to help, starting with purchasing their cannabis products from reputable stores to ensure quality and purity. Contact your local and state government agencies and politicians and beg them to lower the taxes, especially at the consumer level. 

2023 will be the make-it-or-break-it year for many craft cannabis farmers and businesses. As Joyce Denali stated, “If the legacy of California fails, the biggest companies in California fail.  And then our industry nationwide fails in providing consumer’s optimal choice and quality.”

The post Surviving as a Craft Cannabis Farmer appeared first on Cannabis Now.

“We need each other,” says Founder of The Emerald Cup, Tim Blake

The Emerald Cup, which took place on the 10th December 2022 in Santa Rosa, CA, is nothing less than the cannabis event of the year. Now in its 19th year, it’s the event that broke the mold, and set the tone for all other cannabis trade fairs worldwide. The event founder, Tim Blake, is a cannabis OG who first ran the Cup as an underground event in northern California’s famous Emerald Triangle. Today, he’s become a champion of sun-grown craft cannabis and legacy cultivators.

Though the competition is open to all types of cannabis, indoor and outdoor, commercial and craft, year after year, sun-grown wins the top awards. In this interview, Blake dives into the history of California’s cannabis market, explains the appeal of sun-grown cannabis, and gives his insights on what needs to change to bridge the gap between commercial and craft cannabis, saying, “we need each other.”

QUESTION: The Emerald Cup has been going for 19 years and continues to get stronger every year. How did it all begin?

In America, we have county fairs to celebrate the Fall harvest, enjoy some healthy competition, and a chance to showcase local food and animals. I thought, why can’t we do the same thing for cannabis? People thought we were crazy. Back then, most people were growing indoors, and we were an outdoor sun-grown flower competition. But we decided to go for it, and disguised the first event as a birthday party, didn’t even put a flyer out. Most people thought we’d still get arrested because we held it at my place, Area 101. But about two-dozen vendors showed up and a few hundred people, and we pulled it off.

QUESTION: In what ways has The Emerald Cup grown?

From that initial contest, we now have almost 50 contests and 100 judges, and we had more than 700 entries last year. It’s become a fixture for the whole community. It’s the largest cannabis competition in the world, and we have people coming from all over the globe to attend the event. In California, it’s the pre-eminent event to win, and people have made careers and brands off winning or placing in the Cup. When Leo from Aficionado won Best Flower back into 2016, the price of his seeds suddenly went up to $500 a pack. Zkittlez, Ridgeline Farms and OM Edibles are some of other winners, and over the years there are a dozen brands that have become household names after winning one of our competitions. A couple years ago, an indoor brand called Connected won, and they got a $20 million deal off that win.

In the beginning, the competition wasn’t really a consumer show it was for farmers in the mountains. When we moved to Santa Rosa, people thought we were abandoning them. But then they saw how much business we brought in and realized how important it was to come out of the hills and meet with the consumers. Since legalization in 2017, I’ve been saying to farmers, vendors and sponsors that the best place for us is L.A., the biggest cannabis marketplace in the world. We finally made it down there in 2021, and we’re going back next year with an even bigger show.

QUESTION: What is the judging process like?

Because it’s become really valuable to win one of our awards, we make sure to run a fair contest. We take our time with the judging process, it’s done over weeks, and the judges get together several times. It started out as a celebration of the Fall harvest, so flower would come to us in October, we would judge them in November and have the awards ceremony in December.

But when things became legal, farmers couldn’t just bring their flower to one of our sites, they had to give it one of their distributors, it had to be packaged and tested, returned to the distributor, and then dropped off at one of our sites. It became such a complicated process that our judges were getting about 5 days to make a decision, and it just wasn’t enough time. So, we decided to push the contest into the new year, to do the judging in February and March, and host the awards in May in L.A.


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QUESTION: You’ve got a long history in the cannabis business? How did you get into the game?

I’ve been in the cannabis business for more than 50 years, and started before there was an Emerald Triangle, before there was anyone growing up in Humboldt or Mendocino. I grew up in a beach town near Santa Cruz in the 60s, the kind of place with lots of artists and hippies smoking cannabis. I started working for those hippies at the age of 14, and by the time I graduated from high school I was moving 1,000 pounds of Thai or Mexican at a time.

I was known as The Kid, probably one of the youngest people working for what became a giant enterprise in the 70s. Back then, ships were coming from Asia, dropping 100,000 pounds along the coast at different points, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and L.A. That drop would be broken up and distributed across the country. This giant business ran until the mid-80s. By then the government realized what was going on and did a bunch of things to stop it.

They formed the private prison system and minimum mandatory sentences, which meant you could go to prison for 15 years instead of 6 months. They also set up the DEA in Mendocino and took out about 12 massive loads. Around this time, a friend came to me with some flower in a jar and it was the best flower I’d ever seen. He said it was grown under lights like the light in a grocery store, and that soon everyone would have to switch to indoor growing because the feds were going to bust all the loads and flood the streets with cheap cocaine. At the time, I laughed at him. Back then, cocaine was $100 a gram and only rock stars were doing it. Well, 18 months later, cocaine was down to $10 a gram, and I had to go back to him and beg him for more of that flower in a jar. No one could find weed anymore, but everyone could get cheap cocaine, or crack as it was called, and it ruined our cities.

In the 80s, there were only a handful of people growing up in the mountains because they didn’t need to. There were huge amounts of Thai and Mexican around. Once things changed in the mid-80s, myself and few others moved up to the Triangle, and that’s when it blew up, and became known as the Emerald Triangle. What most people don’t know is that back then all the grows were indoor. We couldn’t grow outdoors because the army was spotting farms from the sky.

So we had to grow indoors, using big generators. From the late 80s to the early 2000s, most of the legendary weed from the Triangle wasn’t sun-grown it was indoor. In the 2000s, permission was given to the military to fly over those indoor grows using heat-seekers, which meant the authorities could get search warrants, and bust those grows. Over several years, they wiped out all the indoor. That’s when everyone went back to growing outdoor. Back in 2004 when we started the event, most people were growing indoors. So when we launched a sun-grown competition, people thought we were crazy.

QUESTION: Given this evolution of growing cannabis, what does craft mean to you?

I’ve had serious health issues, and am a cancer-survivor. My immune system is compromised because I got internal molds from growing cannabis. I’ve learned to survive by following a steadfast organic lifestyle – my clothes, food, toothpaste, shampoo, everything is organic. So that’s where my love of sun-grown comes from. We didn’t even allow indoor into the competition until 2017. But the concept of craft has changed over the years. It used to be a small farmer growing between 1 to 50 plants. Now, a small farmer in California is growing up to 10,000sq.ft. and that’s considered craft because most farmers are growing between 1 to 100 acres. To my mind, craft is someone who’s putting their hands on the plant, growing it themselves without the help of massive labor and machinery, and blending it with other crops.

In 2017, we allowed indoor and solvent-based extracts into the competition. But we do a Best in Show for the flower categories, sun-grown, mixed light and indoor. The first year, mixed light won, but last year, the sun-grown from Cana Craft won, a nice surprise because they’re OG growers. People couldn’t believe sun-grown beat the mixed light and indoor because they still have this idea that indoor is a superior product. A sun-grown flower is dealing with dust, wind and rain, so it doesn’t have the same perfect appearance as an indoor, and that’s what people look for. But of course, the sun-grown has a wider cannabinoid and terpene profile, and people who use it know it’s a completely different experience. That’s why the goal of The Emerald Cup has always been to evangelize for organic craft sun-grown cannabis.

QUESTION: As a staunch supporter of sun-grown cannabis, how are you interacting with the emerging industry? Is there friction? Are they learning from you?

We’re learning from each other. Back when Prop64 was proposed, everyone knew if large-scale farming was allowed it would wipe out the small farmers. So, they included a clause that for five years, it wouldn’t be possible to grow more than 1 acre to give the small farmers a chance to catch up and go legal. Our state governor (Newsom) shook my hand and promised me that they wouldn’t break the clause, so I supported Prop64. I wanted to see cannabis legal, and stop seeing people going to prison. The fact that California is such an economic powerhouse, once it went legal, other states and countries would follow, which is what happened.

But 2 months into legalization, the governor broke his promise, and opened up large-scale farming. Immediately the price started to plummet, and in northern California today, 90% of the original OG farmers are going bankrupt. Only the high-end brands are making it, and everything underneath it is collapsing. While on the one hand, it’s wonderful to see cannabis go legal across the world I’m watching an extinction event here. Steve D’Angelo (ex-owner of Harborside) was one of the people who supported large-scale farming, and the governor used him and a few other people as a way to open up large-scale farming. Recently, I was speaking at a Hall of Flowers event in Santa Rosa, and I talked about this, calling out Steve D’Angelo and the governor. Afterwards, the new owners of Harborside came up to me, and said that they wanted to rectify this situation.

So we got together with trade associations that represent 1,000 farmers in the state, and the Harborside owners agreed to publish a press release apologizing for their part in large-scale farming, and advocating for direct sales for small farmers. They also started a program to include small farm bud on their shelves and do farm tours to educate their bud-tenders.

So, this beautiful unity has emerged, and it’s going to be a model for other corporate retailers. That’s why my theme this year is unity. We need each other. We need our flower in their products, and the dispensaries are realizing they need a wider variety of flower on their shelves. Rather than lashing out, we need to unify and help each other. Haborside is now one of the major sponsors at the Harvest Ball, which would have been unthinkable even 3 months ago. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a new trend in cannabis.

QUESTION: What’s the biggest thing that has to change in the U.S. cannabis industry?

We have to get rid of 280E. Right now, no one can make any money in cannabis, not the farmers or the retailers because of this insane tax. No one is making a dime. As it turned out, they did more in 5 years of legalization to destroy our way of life and culture than they did in 50 years as chasing us as outlaws. In 5 years they’ve decimated not only the Emerald Triangle but every brand in California. They’ll de-regulate in a few years, and let their friends come in and buy it all up cheap. It just beggars belief that we’re in this place right now.

But at the same time, the mainstream is embracing cannabis and no one’s going to prison anymore. On top, plant medicines and psychedelics are exploding. It used to be one ayahuasca ceremony once in a while in northern California. Now, there are 20 every weekend. Overall, it’s all moving in the right direction but the decimation of the legacy trade is criminal. So, I’m telling people to hang on for a few more years, wait until 280E and the regulations are lifted, and things are going to change. But not everyone can wait. There were 20,000 farmers in the Emerald Triangle, and there won’t even be 1,000 left by the time this is over.

The other thing is education. We’re talking to bud-tenders and telling them to stop pushing the high THC strains. When people come to me in the Emerald Cup, telling me they’re going to win because they’ve got the highest THC, I tell them that’s not what our judges are looking for. Our judges look for an unusual cultivar with everything in balance and interesting expressions of cannabinoids and terpenes. Sure, it gets you high but that’s not the only thing that matters. Bud-tenders need to learn more about cannabinoids and terpene profiles and educate consumers.

The interview was condensed and edited.


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CRAFT: The Beating Heart of the Cannabis Industry

Although much of the focus of this article is on the current landscape of the cannabis market in California, the following can easily be interchanged with similar scenarios happening throughout the world.

The Rise of Craft

Cannabis has a history of hiding—albeit involuntarily—in the shadows. For the better part of a century, cannabis cultivators operated underground, hiding in basements, closets, attics, and warehouses hoping to avoid stringent law and harsh punishments. Although this tendency toward covertness limited access to most, it would have a profound impact on the industry, providing the perfect conditions for what would ultimately become the birth of craft cannabis.

The road to craft was a long one, starting out with a whole lot of inferiority: for decades, brick weed, Thai stick, and low-quality hash glutted the marketplace. But as politics shifted and the War On Drugs began, relatively lax laws got ever more strict and began to limit the flow of product across borders. Growers moved indoors as supply dwindled from abroad, and domestic quality rose to meet demand as producers aimed for top dollar, all whilst giving consumers the most enjoyable and potent high for their money.

Due to this high-risk, high-reward scenario—not to mention the exorbitant cost of weed—only those who truly loved cannabis sought it out. Most pot users consequently favored high-quality products over cheaply-made ones; potent, lasting highs over weak and quick highs; and craft small batch to mass production (indoor bud to seeded shwag, for example). The market inevitably shifted in favor of producers who were ever more quality-driven, striving to give consumers a product that was truly worth the high price-point and risk.

Then in 1996, California revolutionized the cannabis industry when it introduced prop 215, a ballot measure legalizing medical cannabis. Thanks to 215’s relatively forgiving laws, small-scale producers were able to step into the light, exploding into a cannabis cultivation, extraction, and edible frenzy the world had yet to see—both in number of producers and products available.

Armed with newly-minted medical cards, the masses finally felt safe enough to consume, purchase, and—most importantly—be a part of the cannabis supply chain for the first time ever.

By the time 215 rolled around, though, long-term consumers were already pretty picky, and most heavy cannabis users whipped into a frantic search for the best they could find. Since everyone could grow, the challenge was no longer just obtaining weed, but getting the highest quality out there.

A craft consumer base was thus born, built of a community that prized bud with maximum flavor, effect, and appeal. California overtook British Columbia as the worldwide mecca for high-quality weed, and terms such as cali-grown and cali-bud gained notoriety.

Legalization—which, in the context of prop 215, created such a beautiful cannabis ecosystem—would ironically snuff out the very thing it had allowed to thrive. In just two decades California would be hit with prop 64, and widespread legalization would change the face of the industry once again, putting craft back in the shadows and placing the limelight on profit through scale—often at the price of quality.

Legalization and Its Pitfalls

Legalization looked—if just for a brief second—so very promising. When in 2016 prop 64 was signed into law, a very clear acreage cap was meant to go into effect for a five year period. This would have proven integral to preserving the industry, as the acreage cap was intended to promote investment into small producers, safeguarding them AND seamlessly transitioning the older 215 model into something sensible for all involved.

Due to various levels of corruption—from industry megalomaniacs, greedy investors, and government officials—loopholes were quickly found in the language of the law to allow for something called “license stacking.” Some of the very industry insiders involved in helping write the legislation were, in fact, some of the first people to help find these “holes” and immediately take advantage of them. The promised acreage cap fell apart, and the rush to build the biggest facilities was underway. Some mega farms, in fact, were already built for day 1 of legalization by those who were in the loophole know.

For true craft cultivators, there’s an inherent understanding that scalability can come at a price; it’s a slow, organic process that has to be based on repeatable standard operating procedures that can be proven over time, not just waking up one day and being able to run 2,000 lights.

But this didn’t stop Two Lighter Terrys (term c/o Jimi Devine) from hoodwinking investors, hawking the idea they could grow as many lights as possible without any hiccups. Throwing out fancy words such as vapor pressure deficit, cal-mag and photosynthetic photon flux density, they convinced investors that no facility was too big for them to handle.

Well, anyone who saw how bad the weed was at the inception of 64 can attest that these Terrys were simply charlatans, as the last remnants of true craft bud from 215 quickly disappeared off dispensary shelves. It was a bitter situation for small-scale cultivators who had any integrity; growers who were honest about financial expectations, investment returns, and the state of the industry suddenly had to compete against fast-talking frauds for a share of the limited investment capital trickling into cannabis.

Craft cannabis courtesy of @snowtillorganics, shot by @ginja.club

Resiliency of Craft in the Marketplace

To say craft is returning would be a misstep, as it’s always been here as a robust and raging marketplace. I’d rather say this: in an industry where everyone is losing so hard, there’s only one clear outlier—and that’s small-scale, super high-quality producers. The ocean of mid-grade cardboard boof is in fact helping these craft producers stand out like diamonds in a sea of zircons, as the demand for bud with a high trichome density, sticky feel, and loud-as-can-be terpene profile is through the roof.

Let’s face it: the cannabis community is so exhausted by the crap produced by incompetent individuals that it’s been more lucrative than ever for craft producers who are outshining the mid-grade atrocities of 64. The high-end is, in fact, so rare nowadays that certain individuals with limitless funds find themselves paying upwards of $1,400 an ounce just to access some of these craft markets. (This has actually created a bit of a separate issue of its own: price gouging and the development of the “custy,” which we’ll definitely touch on in future articles.)

During the height of the 215 era, a pound of the best sticky-icky ranged anywhere from $2,500-$3,200. The best part was, due to lenient vending laws, the average customer could easily access the true craft at their local dispensary for $50-$65 an eighth tops. Still not cheap, but a far cry from what we’re seeing nowadays on dispensary shelves from a bang-to-buck perspective.

I think it’s pretty clear: the biggest blunder of legalization was excluding craft growers from an easy and affordable path to licensure. By doing this, those in charge have pushed consumers away from dispensaries and delivery services, forcing them instead to ask friends where they can get product with some goddamn quality to it. If the recreational cannabis market is to be saved, all levels of quality need to be accessible and re-organized into a fair marketplace for all.

Making Craft Accessible

Alright fam, we’ve arrived to the place where I give my unsolicited opinions and some solutions on how to save this atrocity called legalization, increase tax revenue for the state, and make craft cultivators part of an industry that they helped build.

First and foremost, California needs to fix its issues with corruption and lying to voters—a problem far beyond the scope of the cannabis industry alone but one that has tremendous bearing on it. It couldn’t be more obvious that legalization was touted as a play for accessibility, but we’re meanwhile seeing customers jump in droves back to the traditional marketplace just to get the quality they desire.

Politicians need to care more about total tax revenue than trying to work with a miniscule selection of companies. When a government chooses to work solely with a few wealthy individuals, it reeks of foul play and the desire to enrich only a select few and themselves, whilst preventing the general public from taking part in the wealth. Although it’s only speculation, it wouldn’t be out of line to assume certain officials are getting slipped a little special something for their complicity with what’s happening now. Ultimately this hurts the whole state, as billions of dollars of untapped tax revenue get lost to traditional sales. If inclusivity was properly implemented, that revenue would instead be shoveled into state coffers, increasing access to funds for necessary social and public upgrades. (Like for real, can someone fix the roads?)

To solve these issues will require a multifaceted approach that embraces the true essence of what legalization represents. To me that essence is obvious, and to many industry heads with whom I discuss the topic as well—ensuring a safe and quality-driven product that will not harm consumers.

Craft
Craft cannabis courtesy of @snowtillorganics, shot by @ginja.club

Standardized Testing

First off, let’s stop with the ridiculous test-result scavenger hunt; standardize lab testing so that every single lab has identical results and standard operating procedures for the same product. Potency and terpene testing can be optional for this, and the main focus should be cleanliness from contaminants, pesticides, and pathogens.

Furthermore, placing labs under the highest level of scrutiny from a governmental oversight standpoint is key, as again this is the gateway to a safe vs. unsafe product for the consumer. The fact that multiple labs have been shut down or fined for faking lab test results, not just from a potency perspective, but from passing contaminated product off as clean, is highly indicative of a failed system.

Specialized, Accessible Markets

The next step would be creating a special taxed marketplace—operating much like a farmer’s market or bazaar of sorts—and it would allow ALL people who wished to sell cannabis products. The one contingency would be that all cannabis producers involved would have to submit their product to a secure testing facility. Only once it passes testing can it be brought to the marketplace and sold fairly.

This is, in my opinion, perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle on saving the industry. Why should it matter if product is grown in a $100 million dollar facility or a garage that costs $40,000 to retrofit? Especially when the latter option tends to be far superior. It’s going to be done anyway, and if you try and stop it you end up with a hydra-like scenario in which you shut down one small producer and three more pop up to replace it.

If products are safe for the consumer, where it’s produced shouldn’t matter, assuming you’re not causing neighborhood upset or the like… If you get reported for stinking up the block, that’s on you, bud.

Tax Revenue

Lastly, addressing the promise of additional tax revenue: the reality is more producers = more people paying tax. This enables the implementation of a very low tax rate that encourages growers to opt into the recreational market while still having reportable income to buy homes, cars, and assets. You tell every plug or farmer on the traditional market that for the (theoretically) low cost of a California sales tax they can do this openly and freely, the state would have more money from cannabis tax revenue than it could have ever dreamed of. (We might even end up with some decent roads…)

By doing this, I guarantee we’d attract the entire consumer base to a legal sales system that’s safe, benefits the state, and finally gives customers the high-end craft they’ve been dipping into the traditional marketplace for anyways. While simultaneously ensuring the safest consumption experience for all.

Craft cannabis courtesy of @snowtillorganics, shot by @ginja.club

The Reality, and a New Hope

Of course, none of this is going to happen—at least not for now. First and foremost because it levels the playing field, and everything about legalization has so far been in service of the few and wealthy. Too many people have paid to play; and lost while playing, so tough luck changing anything in such an environment.

There is a silver lining, however, and it’s iterated beautifully by Malcolm Gladwell in his book David and Goliath. As Gladwell states, “Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.”

The unchecked avarice, greed, and short-sightedness on the part of the Chad Collective that has swept through the industry is causing something they never would have expected—the bolstering of craft cannabis and the small and humble quality-driven producer. After all, what’s to be done with these millions of square feet bled into production that never made any sense to begin with? After hoodwinking investors into infinite growth charts and expansion plans that require an intergalactic population of cannabis-loving entities to consume, there are ever more Chads crapping out of the game—leaving in their wake vacant state-of-the-art facilities for the taking, at a fraction of the price it cost to build.

For all my craft-minded producers who have waited ever so patiently on the sidelines as these morons of epic proportions have played at “cannabis CEO” for companies that popped up overnight, I say: wait just a little bit longer. Your time is coming, the infrastructure is built, and the real cannabis industry will soon be able to play at a rate that would be laughable to those who tried getting in at the advent of legalization.

Because here’s the thing: everyone deserves really, really good weed, and they deserve it at a fair price. With the transition that’s coming, I expect this goal to be achievable in the not-so-distant future, when the ocean of mids inevitably dries up and a sea of quality-driven craft washes in to replace it.

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Transbay Challenge: A View From the Judges’ Table

When I pulled up to the 4th installment of the Transbay Challenge, presented by Jimi Devine & Chronic Culture on Aug. 13, I didn’t expect to be met by Mister Woods With The Goods himself, greeting me with a smile and a judges pass. He led us to the judging table, which was covered in mason jars of ultra-frosty cannabis, little jars of hash and rosin, rolling papers, dab rigs and notepads we could use to assess the entries. The race was on, and it was a test of endurance. Between the heat of the day and the heat in my rolling tray, I knew our only chance of making it to the end would be by pacing ourselves.

The Transbay Challenge began in the fall of 2019, a friendly competition for bragging rights as the best cultivator in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nearly three years later, the event has come to garner an almost cult-like following of craft cannabis connoisseurs willing to travel far and wide for a chance to rage with like a champion with Jimi Devine. The 91 Club, a private social club located in the Arts District of downtown LA with deep ties to the legacy market, was home to the event. A space once occupied by legendary cultivator AJ, creator of AJ’s Sour Diesel, the vibes were just right for judging a competition of this caliber.

With my handy-dandy rolling kit in hand, the judging began. We inspected the nugs by shining our cell phone lights into the jars to illuminate the trichomes. We inspected the bud structure and pinched the flowers between our fingers to gauge the density and stickiness of each offering. We stuck our noses into the jars, searching for the one that made us raise our eyebrows and reach for the prettiest nug of the bunch. 

Strain after strain, joint after joint, we made our way through the entries, five of which absolutely blew us away.

Fidel’s KMZ took home the win with almost half the judges’ votes. An immigrant from Saudi Arabia, Shawn Damirdijan (Fidel) has been a staple in the California cannabis market for over a decade. A pioneer of the beloved hash hole and cultivator extraordinaire, Shawn has built his flower brand on clean growing practices, consistent flower and achieving the maximum potential of each strain. His brand motto “Possessions Don’t Make You Rich” echoed his humble demeanor as he personally served cold beverages to guests who visited his booth.

As the sun went down and the day began to cool off, I couldn’t help but reminisce. The excitement and camaraderie paired with the cordial rivalry of who had the best stash brought me back to a time when the fun of cannabis events came from simply being together. It warms my heart that even in 2022, when corporate cannabis is operating full swing, some of the best cannabis can still be found tucked away in a lonely graffiti-covered warehouse—surrounded by friends.

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Face of the Farmer: Sol Spirit Farm & Retreats

Trinity County sits at the top of the state of California. It’s one of three counties making up the Emerald Triangle, along with Mendocino and Humboldt. Trinity is the more rustic and rural of the counties, with a population of a little less than 13,000 with a sizeable number of craft cannabis farmers up in the hills. Walter Wood and Judi Nelson of Sol Spirit Farm consider themselves Trinity homesteaders. For more than two decades, they’ve been farming off the grid on the same spot on the south fork of the Trinity River, located in the northern part of the Emerald Triangle.

“Homesteading off the grid means doing everything yourself,” Walter says. “It means when the power goes out or the water stops flowing—we deal with it. We aren’t connected to the city water, like some of the larger growers. We make everything happen ourselves by our own hands. That’s really the crux of being a craft cannabis farmer: how hands-on you are in every step of the process.”

Their home is a product of their local environment. The straw bales that comprise the main house were sourced from 120 miles away, the earthen floor was made from the ground beneath and the trees were felled from the property. Homesteading, he said, also means living a righteous and sustainable life, keeping the footprint as small as possible, being mindful of the earth as a precious commodity to be cared for. 

He says his personal inspiration for working on the land began when he was very young, growing up in Los Angeles.

“My grandparents gardened one acre in Los Angeles,” he says. “My grandfather was a horticulturist and an etymology hobbyist, with a large bug collection under glass. When they were getting older, I cared for their fruit trees, which included avocados and oranges. It gave me a strong connection to the earth.”

Farming for Health

Walter’s foray into cannabis began in 1992, when he was 20 years old and working for Los Angeles Water & Power. Diagnosed with a permanent back injury, he was initially prescribed, what he refers to as, “heavy duty painkillers.” That’s when he discovered cannabis to be a better choice.

“Just by smoking cannabis it greatly reduced the spasms and pain much better than the pills,” he says. “Without the plant, the pain becomes unmanageable. I never found pharmaceuticals could help me nearly as much as the natural, healthy product I can grow myself.”

His cannabis prescription has been updated for more than two decades under California’s Medical Cannabis program that began in 1996, making the Golden State the first to legalize cannabis for medicine in the country.

The Grateful Dead, Weed & Romance

Co-founders Judi Nelson and Walter Wood. PHOTO Rowan Nelson-Wood

In 1995, shortly after Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead passed, Judi and Walter met at his memorial in LA. After the event Judi wanted to attend a Rainbow gathering down in Mexico and someone asked Walter if he could work on a bus for the group of nine to travel there together.

“We never found the gathering,” Walter says, laughing, “but we had a great time together and smoked a kilo of bud in no time, as we trekked down to Michoacan and back. The entire trip took three and a half months—long enough to get to know each other on a bus in close quarters.”

During the trip, Judi and Walter became a couple and eventually ended up in Baton Rouge where Judi was working as a temporary traveling physical therapist. They immediately noticed a serious lack of cannabis in Louisiana, with Walter educating himself by reading Ed Rosenthal’s 1990 version of the Marijuana Grower’s Handbook.

“There were no grow shops or specific equipment for growing available at that time, so I went to the hardware store and bought two porch lights, one 250 watts, the other 150 watts, then made a homemade hood and I immediately became addicted to growing cannabis.”

After a stint in Arkansas looking for land and another relocation with Judi’s work, they were pulled over with guns drawn and arrested for a dirty pipe, clean glass pipes and glass blowing paraphernalia Walter had been working with—misdemeanors, all. With no scent of cannabis in their 1972 Westfalia hippie van and only the scent of incense burned, with Walter’s dreadlocks down to his waist, the two felt they were definitely profiled in the ultra-conservative state. 

Walter pleaded guilty so Judi wouldn’t lose her physical therapist license. In court, the newly graduated officer admitted that he learned incense is used to cover up the smell of cannabis, and he had no evidence as cause for pulling them over in the first place. Consequently, the couple was released with $2,500 in bail and no time served, but Walter did lose his driver’s license for six years.

The experience scared them off the road and helped them make the decision to relocate to the more progressive state of California. They landed initially in Humboldt County in the City of Arcata—otherwise known as ’60s by the Sea—and began growing in a residential neighborhood in an attic space of a 500-square-foot house.

But growing indoors wasn’t sustainable, and soon the Woods would be called into the woods.

Life on the Farm

They hadn’t even looked at the farm they now call home due to rumors of meth use from its tenants and a lack of water on the property.

“We’d been looking for a couple of years and this place had been for sale the entire time,” Walter said. “Without a source of water, we didn’t feel it’d work for us, but after a 200-to-300-foot hike up the hill, we found the end of a pipe, we were hopeful. It wasn’t at a spring, but then we found a hand-dug trench in two or three inches of water. Hand digging trenches on the side of a mountain just isn’t done any more.” 

This find told them that back in the 1930s, when it was common to hand dig to a spring, water was there, with the pipes long abandoned. After they purchased the property they received a deed to water rights to the stream that had been dug out long ago.

“Water’s everything,” he said. “We also practice rain water catchment, but we’d have never bought this place without access to a spring.”

Sol Spirit is an organic, sustainable and regenerative farm producing award-winning, sungrown craft cannabis.

“Our intent has always been to source as much of our calories from the farm, living off the land as much as we can,” he says. “Practicing regenerative farming techniques makes all the difference to the quality of flower we produce—and the food we grow for ourselves and our guests.”

According to greenamerica.org, regenerative agricultural practices include using cover crops, reducing tiling, rotating crops, spreading compost and moving away from synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and factory farming.”

“We also practice what’s called Intensive Rotational Grazing, with our chickens and pigs, conditioning the soil as they graze,” Walter says.

Sol Spirit craft cannabis
Smelling the flower. PHOTO Walter Wood

The farm has won many awards, including from The Emerald Cup, The Grow Off and WeedCon. Important to note, The Emerald Cup has never been awarded to a cannabis farmer for a high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), but rather for the overall profile of the plant—meaning the complex bouquet, derived from the sun and the rich, loamy soil to the North.

“Earth Conscious Cannabis” is the farm’s slogan, with Walter saying that most of the regulations under the legal market seem out of step with the farming of, and the harmless nature of the plant.

Growing in native soil, Walter says, allows the plant to fully express the terroir that’s made the region famous and the flowers fragrant. Cultivars such as Sol Cookies, Sol Shine, Mother’s Milk and the classic Sour Diesel don’t disappoint.

“Our hope is that the small, craft sungrown farmers’ products are realized for their quality sooner than later, so that we can survive corporatization and commodification of this sacred plant,” he continued. “We can’t compete with big agriculture on prices, and they can’t compete with us on handcrafted quality—that’s a fact.”

In keeping with its environmentally conscious mission, Sol Spirit Farm’s products are all hand packaged using recycled glass containers, with ocean recycled plastic lids and compostable labels, with them winning First Place for the 2022 Emerald Cup for Eco-conscience Packaging.

Glamping to Sustain

Sol Spirit Retreats’ glamping tents. PHOTO Sharon Letts

Subsidizing the family cannabis farm looks a little different than the average American farmer’s subsidy from the federal government. With no Farm Aid for cannabis farmers, many are getting creative in the way they use their space and the farm.

In an effort to open up to the community at large, while providing a much-needed additional income, the couple started another branch of the business: Sol Spirit Retreats. Judi turned a flat meadow into glamping grounds, offering up overnight stays in well-outfitted bell tents, with real beds and linens. As a plus, each tent has its own private bath nearby with hot running water and fluffy towels.

“All our meals are farm to table,” Judi says. “We use organic eggs, produce and livestock from the farm, and locally sourced goods from other farmers in the area.”

Zucchini noodles, marinara sauce, pesto and salads all come from the garden. Nearby are the iconic Willow Creek peach farmers; Jacque and Amy Neukom’s dry-farmed peaches along the Trinity River are used in cobbler.

“Our favorite is cannabis-infused peach ice cream,” Judi says. “I use our Blueberry Muffin flower (Humboldt Seed Co’s genetics) for the infusion. We don’t grow carrots on the farm, because up the road Willow Creek Farms grows the best carrots you’ll ever taste.”

Preparing fresh food from the land. PHOTO Sharon Letts

Breakfast might include locally sourced fruits, bacon from their own sustainably raised (and loved) pigs, and eggs from their own free-range, organically fed chickens. Stays include guided tours of the farm by Walter, a master cultivator, with guests enjoying seeing how the farm clones, plants, grows, harvests and manicures their flowers for market. 

Guests can also take advantage of river rafting on the nearby Trinity River, or attending a Zumba, Yoga, or Pilates class for an additional fee. Judi has more than 25 years’ experience as a physical therapist and is an expert practitioner of myofascial release techniques, plus a Pilates and Zumba instructor, offering classes at Trinity Herbals & Wellness Center.

Last July, Sol Spirits Retreats organized the Emerald Triangle Revealed Tour, which is a three-county, five-day retreat including stays in Southern Humboldt, on the coast of Mendocino. They worked with vintners and other farmers to organize 420-friendly stays, bringing people up to see the Emerald Triangle and experience the lifestyle that’s been hidden for decades due to the failed War on Drugs.

”The plant is sacred medicine, and it’s a huge part of our lives,” Walter says. “Our mission is to take cannabis out of the closet and grow some of the best medicine in a regenerative way, as part of a dynamic, multifaceted, small family farm. In opening up the farm to overnight stays, we hope that our guests will come away excited and inspired to join a regenerative future—or at least finally understand what our lives are all about up here.”

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Face of the Farmer: Sunshine Cereceda, Sunboldt Grown

Stepping out of the unregulated medical marijuana market in California and into the world of legal, adult-use cannabis, with licensing and high taxes to follow, has been no small feat for most farmers in Northern California’s hail from the Emerald Triangle, which includes Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties. Considered by many as the cannabis capital of the world, this is where many of the cultivars we enjoy were first developed.

One such Southern Humboldt County farmer, Sunboldt Grown owner Sunshine Cereceda, was comfortable in the medical marijuana space, using the cooperative model where patients supported farmers. There, she developed and branded cultivars of her own, like Loopy Fruit, Wanderlust, Delphina and Redwood Summer.

Cereceda saw the writing on the wall with issues of legalization for the small farmers to the north, and her message is the still the same: Farmers need to brand themselves, their farms and their cultivars in order to effectively compete and be known.

They also need to do away with the middleman—or the “Bro Distro”—as Cereceda dubbed them. This refers to the old-school method of moving material and product on just a handshake, with the small farmer at home often getting the short end of the deal. It worked to a point back in the day, but today trust is being exploited by what she calls “corporate sharks.”

“Cannabis has always sustained us, even through the hard times, so why is it not going to get us through now, after all these years?” Cereceda asks. “In my mind, the small cannabis farmers need to change their mindset. They need to do away with all the bad habits developed in the past unregulated markets in order to move forward.”

Cereceda went on to explain that in the days of prohibition, they were functioning without a future. But now, small cannabis farmers can leverage their own history as they legally build their businesses. 

“Rookies and bad habits built the industry during prohibition. From my roots in activism, I understand the challenges of the messenger,” she said. “But we have this product that’s already branded from our region—we’re known as rockstars in the industry. There’s no stronger cannabis community in the nation. We’re just in transition. It’s a learning curve, to say the least.”

Born Into Activism

Cereceda’s mom brought her to Southern Humboldt from her birthplace of San Luis Obispo, CA, when she was seven years old. 

“I was raised by an activist,” Cereceda says. “My mother organized and protested nuclear energy and weapons. She was there during the Diablo Canyon rally in 1978 with [CA Governor] Jerry Brown—she was one of the organizers.”

Part of her mother’s advocacy included protecting the redwoods, and Cereceda followed in her footsteps, majoring in geology at Humboldt State University. “I studied geology mostly because it’s Mother Earth, and I wanted to understand the earth” she said. “I thought it was all about plant life, but then I realized it was the rocks and the earth itself.”

The degree led her to work on road inventories for Humboldt Redwoods State Parks, followed by a gig with Pacific Watershed Associates. 

Watershed stewardship is an important issue in California and is directly tied to the health of the forests and rivers. For decades, the watershed was largely ignored by small and large-scale cannabis operations from both the unregulated medical and illicit markets during the days of the Green Rush. They would reroute water coming down the mountains to suit their needs, with unpermitted roads crisscrossing the hills, making it nearly impossible for literally hundreds of hill farmers to come into compliance today.

It’s important to note that the erosion of the roads is also a direct result from the timber industry, now expected to be corrected and paid for by the farmers.

“During a town hall meeting prior to legalization, water experts were brought in to let us know that, even in a drought, we could gather enough water to care for our crops using rain-catchment systems,” she said. “Cannabis farmers have taken the lead in responsible water use for agriculture in the state.”

For the Love of Farming

Responsible agricultural practices are key in sustainable and regenerative farming, which is what the Emerald Triangle is known for. But it’s not enough to compete in an overregulated market, where the farmer feels the brunt of taxation—not only on the farm, but also on the shelf, as retailers bump their losses down to the farmer at check-out.

“Farmers are at the end of the line in a capitalistic system, and we carry the tax burden as it gets kicked down from retailers and brands that buy bulk and package it themselves,” Cereceda says. “I’m lucky that I have good retail partners, but that took time and consistency to establish. If you’re still using your Bro Distro, you’re losing a big chunk of income.”

With the promise of distributors and umbrella brands representing farmers a clear disappointment—garnering a mere $400 to $500 per pound—Cereceda says it’s time for farmers to represent themselves in the marketplace and build a brand.

Doing all the work herself with her team, from seed to shelf, including packaging, Cereceda said she’s been able to get $1100 to $1200 per pound.

“Farm management skills [and] managing workers—it takes a lot of years and a concentrated effort to be good at it, and that all adds to your bottom line” she says. “You can’t just get a license and think it’s all going to work out alright with your output. Historically, we pay for our operation out of each harvest, but that’s like working paycheck to paycheck with no guarantee your next crop will be moved. Our distribution right now is weak.”

Reducing risk plays a big factor in succeeding in the regulated market, and Cereceda says the more a farmer opts out of their own work, the less they’ll make. It’s just common sense.

“How about growing what you can move yourself?” she asks. “This is capitalism, count your blessings. This is how it works. The middleman will take all your profits if you let him. And your Bro Distro isn’t much better. It takes one year to grow a crop; it takes several years to grow a business.”

One distributor Cereceda speaks fondly of is Berner, CEO and co-founder of Cookies, with longtime Southern Humboldt Farmer, Kevin Jodrey in the mix.

“Berner is underrated,” she says. “He’s doing a great job supporting farmers and has gotten more customers off the black market on the streets and into shops than anyone else. He allowed so many black-market growers back in the day to prosper growing his genetics—they got brand recognition for his cultivars. Can’t say enough good about Berner.”

Berner is a stage name for San Francisco Bay Area hip-hop artist, Gilbert Anthony Milam, Jr., who branded his Cookies cultivar during the medical market in California. Cookies was made legendary after the Scouts of America forced him to shorten the name from Girl Scout Cookies to Cookies.

Branding a Life

small cannabis farmers

Showing the face of the farmer—telling their stories in today’s social media marketing mindset is everything.

The once shy Cereceda is now posting photos of herself on social media from the farm, holding her colas in the forest, telling the stories of how they were created and named—sharing her charmed farm life with the world.

Typically, it takes years to create a cultivar. It’s not uncommon for each farmer to have specific stories surrounding the work, the detailed variations of the flower, and the cultivar’s name, which often involves a sentimental or meaningful story from the farm.

Sunboldt Grown’s website beckons, “Taste the Redwoods,” noting all cultivars are grown in the loamy ancient soil, taking on nuances, just as in viticulture in the South of France and the growing of grapes for wine taking on the essence of lavender or rosemary nearby.

The plants are grown in the flood plain deposits of the Eel River, with no additional water needed. This is called dry farming, and the farmers refer to themselves as “terroirists” (from the French word terroir, meaning earth or soil), who allow for the place to be expressed in the flower they grow.

Cereceda’s crops are also grown by the cycles of the moon, not uncommon among farmers. In fact, the historic Farmer’s Almanac still provides lunar cycles as a planting guide. The almanac explains that just as the moon’s gravitational pull creates the tides of the oceans, it also promotes plant growth by creating more moisture in the soil. 

Sunboldt Grown cannabis

“Wanderlust was inspired by sailing on the ocean,” Cereceda says. “The word implies an urgency to be moving, to not settle in one place.”

From its website, Wanderlust is a hybrid of Blue Dream and Agent Orange, with flavors of lemon-lime zest and fresh Douglas Fir needles, finishing with a splash of orange juice. The smoke is medium-bodied with a dense, velvety richness. A ten-week strain, its delicate flower is sensitive to the cold.

“Redwood Summer is named after the campaign and initiative from 1990, to stop the clear-cutting of all old-growth redwoods,” Cereceda said.

The backstory to the Redwood Summer campaign is heartbreaking and personal to the region. Earth First! began the movement. It was led by Judi Bari during the Timber Wars that continued into the 1990s and ended when Bari and her partner Daryl Cherney were seriously injured after a pipe bomb was planted in their car. The cultivar is a tribute to Bari and the movement that continues to educate and protect the old growth forests.

Delphina was created by crossing Purple Nepal with Rebel Moon (NorCal Diesel). Cereceda uses this cultivar to make old-school, solventless, bubble hash as it yields high-quality resin. A sweet and savory aroma, it’s spicy, and the smoke is likened to breathing in the forest floor, delivering a deep state of relaxation and euphoria.

“Delphina is a Greek woman from Delphi, Greece, where the Earth Goddess Gaia was first celebrated,” she said. 

According to author Darian West, the Oracle of Delphi was considered the most influential woman of the ancient world from 800 BC until 393 AD, when her last recorded entry predicted the end of the Roman Empire, declaring, “All is ended.” Delphina proclaimed Socrates the wisest man in the world, predicted the rise of Alexander the Great and foretold the death of Nero.

Farmer as Influencer

Small cannabis farmers have a hard time getting out of the illicit market. For the most part, they can’t afford licensing; can’t move product; distribution is weak; taxes are high; and ordinances are unreasonable and/or ill-informed to begin with, causing undue hardships.

“Everyone is codependent in this space,” Cereceda says. “The handshake deals don’t work anymore. The days of your best buddy distributing for you are over.”

For the first time in history, cannabis farmers are feeling the brunt of growing the world’s most illicit and beloved herb on the planet. Just as with food farmers, they aren’t getting a living wage, with no subsidy from the US government to bail them out when times are hard, or the price per pound is too low to pay the bills.

“Everyone is borrowing on us, and we’ve been way too complacent about it for far too long,”’ Cereceda says. “On the other hand, this product—this cash crop—is from Mother Earth, and the fact that we’re doing as well as we are up here is just amazing to me. We need to own our right to be here and work smarter.”

The post Face of the Farmer: Sunshine Cereceda, Sunboldt Grown appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Face of the Farmer: Sunshine Cereceda, Sunboldt Grown

Stepping out of the unregulated medical marijuana market in California and into the world of legal, adult-use cannabis, with licensing and high taxes to follow, has been no small feat for most farmers in Northern California’s hail from the Emerald Triangle, which includes Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties. Considered by many as the cannabis capital of the world, this is where many of the cultivars we enjoy were first developed.

One such Southern Humboldt County farmer, Sunboldt Grown owner Sunshine Cereceda, was comfortable in the medical marijuana space, using the cooperative model where patients supported farmers. There, she developed and branded cultivars of her own, like Loopy Fruit, Wanderlust, Delphina and Redwood Summer.

Cereceda saw the writing on the wall with issues of legalization for the small farmers to the north, and her message is the still the same: Farmers need to brand themselves, their farms and their cultivars in order to effectively compete and be known.

They also need to do away with the middleman—or the “Bro Distro”—as Cereceda dubbed them. This refers to the old-school method of moving material and product on just a handshake, with the small farmer at home often getting the short end of the deal. It worked to a point back in the day, but today trust is being exploited by what she calls “corporate sharks.”

“Cannabis has always sustained us, even through the hard times, so why is it not going to get us through now, after all these years?” Cereceda asks. “In my mind, the small cannabis farmers need to change their mindset. They need to do away with all the bad habits developed in the past unregulated markets in order to move forward.”

Cereceda went on to explain that in the days of prohibition, they were functioning without a future. But now, small cannabis farmers can leverage their own history as they legally build their businesses. 

“Rookies and bad habits built the industry during prohibition. From my roots in activism, I understand the challenges of the messenger,” she said. “But we have this product that’s already branded from our region—we’re known as rockstars in the industry. There’s no stronger cannabis community in the nation. We’re just in transition. It’s a learning curve, to say the least.”

Born Into Activism

Cereceda’s mom brought her to Southern Humboldt from her birthplace of San Luis Obispo, CA, when she was seven years old. 

“I was raised by an activist,” Cereceda says. “My mother organized and protested nuclear energy and weapons. She was there during the Diablo Canyon rally in 1978 with [CA Governor] Jerry Brown—she was one of the organizers.”

Part of her mother’s advocacy included protecting the redwoods, and Cereceda followed in her footsteps, majoring in geology at Humboldt State University. “I studied geology mostly because it’s Mother Earth, and I wanted to understand the earth” she said. “I thought it was all about plant life, but then I realized it was the rocks and the earth itself.”

The degree led her to work on road inventories for Humboldt Redwoods State Parks, followed by a gig with Pacific Watershed Associates. 

Watershed stewardship is an important issue in California and is directly tied to the health of the forests and rivers. For decades, the watershed was largely ignored by small and large-scale cannabis operations from both the unregulated medical and illicit markets during the days of the Green Rush. They would reroute water coming down the mountains to suit their needs, with unpermitted roads crisscrossing the hills, making it nearly impossible for literally hundreds of hill farmers to come into compliance today.

It’s important to note that the erosion of the roads is also a direct result from the timber industry, now expected to be corrected and paid for by the farmers.

“During a town hall meeting prior to legalization, water experts were brought in to let us know that, even in a drought, we could gather enough water to care for our crops using rain-catchment systems,” she said. “Cannabis farmers have taken the lead in responsible water use for agriculture in the state.”

For the Love of Farming

Responsible agricultural practices are key in sustainable and regenerative farming, which is what the Emerald Triangle is known for. But it’s not enough to compete in an overregulated market, where the farmer feels the brunt of taxation—not only on the farm, but also on the shelf, as retailers bump their losses down to the farmer at check-out.

“Farmers are at the end of the line in a capitalistic system, and we carry the tax burden as it gets kicked down from retailers and brands that buy bulk and package it themselves,” Cereceda says. “I’m lucky that I have good retail partners, but that took time and consistency to establish. If you’re still using your Bro Distro, you’re losing a big chunk of income.”

With the promise of distributors and umbrella brands representing farmers a clear disappointment—garnering a mere $400 to $500 per pound—Cereceda says it’s time for farmers to represent themselves in the marketplace and build a brand.

Doing all the work herself with her team, from seed to shelf, including packaging, Cereceda said she’s been able to get $1100 to $1200 per pound.

“Farm management skills [and] managing workers—it takes a lot of years and a concentrated effort to be good at it, and that all adds to your bottom line” she says. “You can’t just get a license and think it’s all going to work out alright with your output. Historically, we pay for our operation out of each harvest, but that’s like working paycheck to paycheck with no guarantee your next crop will be moved. Our distribution right now is weak.”

Reducing risk plays a big factor in succeeding in the regulated market, and Cereceda says the more a farmer opts out of their own work, the less they’ll make. It’s just common sense.

“How about growing what you can move yourself?” she asks. “This is capitalism, count your blessings. This is how it works. The middleman will take all your profits if you let him. And your Bro Distro isn’t much better. It takes one year to grow a crop; it takes several years to grow a business.”

One distributor Cereceda speaks fondly of is Berner, CEO and co-founder of Cookies, with longtime Southern Humboldt Farmer, Kevin Jodrey in the mix.

“Berner is underrated,” she says. “He’s doing a great job supporting farmers and has gotten more customers off the black market on the streets and into shops than anyone else. He allowed so many black-market growers back in the day to prosper growing his genetics—they got brand recognition for his cultivars. Can’t say enough good about Berner.”

Berner is a stage name for San Francisco Bay Area hip-hop artist, Gilbert Anthony Milam, Jr., who branded his Cookies cultivar during the medical market in California. Cookies was made legendary after the Scouts of America forced him to shorten the name from Girl Scout Cookies to Cookies.

Branding a Life

small cannabis farmers

Showing the face of the farmer—telling their stories in today’s social media marketing mindset is everything.

The once shy Cereceda is now posting photos of herself on social media from the farm, holding her colas in the forest, telling the stories of how they were created and named—sharing her charmed farm life with the world.

Typically, it takes years to create a cultivar. It’s not uncommon for each farmer to have specific stories surrounding the work, the detailed variations of the flower, and the cultivar’s name, which often involves a sentimental or meaningful story from the farm.

Sunboldt Grown’s website beckons, “Taste the Redwoods,” noting all cultivars are grown in the loamy ancient soil, taking on nuances, just as in viticulture in the South of France and the growing of grapes for wine taking on the essence of lavender or rosemary nearby.

The plants are grown in the flood plain deposits of the Eel River, with no additional water needed. This is called dry farming, and the farmers refer to themselves as “terroirists” (from the French word terroir, meaning earth or soil), who allow for the place to be expressed in the flower they grow.

Cereceda’s crops are also grown by the cycles of the moon, not uncommon among farmers. In fact, the historic Farmer’s Almanac still provides lunar cycles as a planting guide. The almanac explains that just as the moon’s gravitational pull creates the tides of the oceans, it also promotes plant growth by creating more moisture in the soil. 

Sunboldt Grown cannabis

“Wanderlust was inspired by sailing on the ocean,” Cereceda says. “The word implies an urgency to be moving, to not settle in one place.”

From its website, Wanderlust is a hybrid of Blue Dream and Agent Orange, with flavors of lemon-lime zest and fresh Douglas Fir needles, finishing with a splash of orange juice. The smoke is medium-bodied with a dense, velvety richness. A ten-week strain, its delicate flower is sensitive to the cold.

“Redwood Summer is named after the campaign and initiative from 1990, to stop the clear-cutting of all old-growth redwoods,” Cereceda said.

The backstory to the Redwood Summer campaign is heartbreaking and personal to the region. Earth First! began the movement. It was led by Judi Bari during the Timber Wars that continued into the 1990s and ended when Bari and her partner Daryl Cherney were seriously injured after a pipe bomb was planted in their car. The cultivar is a tribute to Bari and the movement that continues to educate and protect the old growth forests.

Delphina was created by crossing Purple Nepal with Rebel Moon (NorCal Diesel). Cereceda uses this cultivar to make old-school, solventless, bubble hash as it yields high-quality resin. A sweet and savory aroma, it’s spicy, and the smoke is likened to breathing in the forest floor, delivering a deep state of relaxation and euphoria.

“Delphina is a Greek woman from Delphi, Greece, where the Earth Goddess Gaia was first celebrated,” she said. 

According to author Darian West, the Oracle of Delphi was considered the most influential woman of the ancient world from 800 BC until 393 AD, when her last recorded entry predicted the end of the Roman Empire, declaring, “All is ended.” Delphina proclaimed Socrates the wisest man in the world, predicted the rise of Alexander the Great and foretold the death of Nero.

Farmer as Influencer

Small cannabis farmers have a hard time getting out of the illicit market. For the most part, they can’t afford licensing; can’t move product; distribution is weak; taxes are high; and ordinances are unreasonable and/or ill-informed to begin with, causing undue hardships.

“Everyone is codependent in this space,” Cereceda says. “The handshake deals don’t work anymore. The days of your best buddy distributing for you are over.”

For the first time in history, cannabis farmers are feeling the brunt of growing the world’s most illicit and beloved herb on the planet. Just as with food farmers, they aren’t getting a living wage, with no subsidy from the US government to bail them out when times are hard, or the price per pound is too low to pay the bills.

“Everyone is borrowing on us, and we’ve been way too complacent about it for far too long,”’ Cereceda says. “On the other hand, this product—this cash crop—is from Mother Earth, and the fact that we’re doing as well as we are up here is just amazing to me. We need to own our right to be here and work smarter.”

The post Face of the Farmer: Sunshine Cereceda, Sunboldt Grown appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Face of the Farmer: John Casali, Huckleberry Hill Farms

In the mid 1970s, by the time John Casali was five years old, his mother, Marlene Farrell, had relocated them from his birthplace of San Francisco to a farm in Southern Humboldt County.

Starting in 1967, more than 100,000 people gathered in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and Haight-Ashbury district, where mostly young people identifying as hippies engaged in drugs, free love and anti-war activism. Deemed “The Summer of Love,” the social phenomenon offered the world a window into America’s growing counterculture. 

When the festivities ended in 1969, many traveled north to live off the land. Dubbed “Back to the Landers,” they settled mainly in three regions in Northern California: Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties, which all make up the Emerald Triangle. The area is known for its legacy farms that started the cannabis industry. That includes Casali who is still homesteading his mother’s property, Huckleberry Hill Farms, 50 years later.

John Casali of Huckleberry Hill Farms, a legacy, family-run farm in Humboldt County, California.

At Huckleberry Hill Farms, Casali’s mother grew their own food. She planted fruit trees and grape arbors that still produce today, alongside flower gardens woven throughout the idyllic hillside property. The garden isfilled with the history of the cannabis cultivars they’ve painstakingly produced over the years, in memory of loved ones now passed. 

Casali’s earliest memories are of those following his mother around the garden. “Cannabis was always part of our life from the very beginning, but it wasn’t the only crop on the farm,” Casali says. “I can remember running around with my mother as early as 10 years old, helping her cultivate the plant, but also tending to a grape arbor, fruit trees and the vegetable garden we ate from. Cannabis was just another crop that allowed us to survive and thrive in the country.”

Growing their own food, fishing commercially and logging and/or chopping firewood for others are just a few ways those living a rural life survived on the north coast of California and Oregon. Cannabis was grown on the side as a subsidy. Many produce farmers also grew cannabis in a don’t ask, don’t tell scenario that served them well for years. That is, until the helicopters came.

CAMP California

The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, otherwise known as CAMP (1983 – 2012; 2015 – present) is a multi-agency law enforcement task force under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Justice that coordinates local, state and federal agencies, including Army soldiers and National Guardsmen, with a common goal of eradicating unlicensed cannabis cultivation and distribution in the state.

What CAMP did was federally fund, or subsidize, a bevy of local law enforcement for the failed War on Drugs. Just as with the failed DARE program taught in schools by paying police officers to teach kids about drugs, CAMP created a cash flow to otherwise lowly paid law enforcement, causing them to become dependent, and subsequently support, the failed War on Drugs at the polls. This only perpetuated the ignorance surrounding cannabis, a benign and beneficial plant.

No matter that California legalized medical cannabis in 1996, and had permitted adult-use since 2016. City, county and state agencies were guaranteed an income for raiding local, legal medical farms and associated entities for years under federal prohibition of the plant. With the combined funding, CAMP utilized helicopters in its multi-agency task force, forcing the plant–meant to grow outside in the sun–inside. 

This changed the face of cannabis farming for decades–if not forever.

The Raid

When he was 15 years old, Casali begged his mom to start his own farm. Not young enough to purchase an 11-acre parcel on his own, she co-signed, and he provided the down payment for a sweet spot along the Eel River in Southern Humboldt.

“Mom and I would compete for the best crop,” Casali says with a smile. “But then CAMP started in the ’80s, and by the early ’90s, my parents decided that fishing would be safer, so they left me to take care of the family farm.”

CAMP helicopters forced farmers to grow under trees and often underground in shipping containers to hide. The plant that once provided five or ten pounds at full growth out in the sun now produced substantially less in its hidden, stunted capacity.

But hiding wasn’t enough, and one morning just after sunrise, 30 federal agents arrived at the farm. They never handcuffed the farmer or his friend and neighbor Todd Wick who were both 24 years old at the time. Rather, they handed Casali a little yellow speeding ticket, saying they’d be back if they needed to talk to him further. Fourteen months later, they returned, offering up a hefty $275,000 bail for Casali.

“My mom put up the house and everything else she owned to get me out of jail,” Casali says. “For the next three years, Todd and I drove from Southern Humboldt to the federal courthouse in San Francisco to fight for our freedom as cannabis farmers—as good people, never wanting to hurt anyone.”

Some 100 supporters from Humboldt arrived for the sentencing that included mandatory minimums of ten years, all the way up to life. Casali and Wick surrendered in the summer of 1996, just a few months before California would vote to legalize medical cannabis in the state—the first to do so in the country.

“There was no appeal process based on the new medical laws,” he says. “Because we had no more money left to fight for both appeals, Todd went through the process and lost. After that, we were resigned to be in the system until we served our time.”

Farming In Prison

Because Casali and Wick were farmers, licensed and able to operate heavy equipment, much of their time served was spent working agricultural crops associated with the US Penitentiary at Lompoc, at around 12 cents an hour.

A little-known element of the failed privatized prison system is its eventual transferring of jobs that used to be done by private citizens. Not all jobs in America went overseas during the 1980s. Everything from manufacturing foodstuffs to shower doors to the 411 information line went to prisoners for pennies an hour—a travesty not often discussed in the politicking of job gains and losses in the US.

Since the Lompoc prison camp didn’t have a residential drug program, Casali was transferred to Nellis Airforce Base, where he said he actually learned something about drugs and addicts.

“While the program didn’t apply to me and my cannabis use or farming of it, I learned a lot about true addicts out there, and how they really lose their ability to control what they consume and how much,” he says. “Personally, I don’t believe cannabis falls into that category at all.” 

Casali added that, ironically, the prison system is loaded with offerings of any drug desired, and it’s up to the prisoner to abstain or face consequences of a higher security stay with less privileges.

After serving eight of the ten-year sentence for good behavior, Casali was released to a half-way house in the Tenderloin, San Francisco’s notorious (and worst) neighborhood. He then came back home to Humboldt and began farming his beloved cannabis once more, under California’s newly established cooperative medical cannabis compassionate care program.

“I had 50 people here in this community waiting to help me get my life back in order,” Casali said. “Everyone here knows it could have happened to anyone.”

Call it a barn raising at its finest, the struggle’s nothing new to cannabis farmers across the country in newly legalized states. They support each other while fighting issues of inequality, exorbitantly high taxes and ridiculous ordinances at every turn.

These farmers struggle through the same challenges as our food farmers—drought, storms, frost, low prices at market. But they’re also confronted with the failed War on Drugs, brutal governmental raids, prison time and subsequent criminality upon re-entering society.

The only difference between cannabis farmers and food farmers is that there aren’t any government subsidies for a low return in the ever evolving multi-billion-dollar cannabis market. There’s no category for small, craft cannabis farmers that would help them compete with large-scale corporate operations that sprung up across the state after legalization in 2016.

Price Per Pound

In the old legal medical market of California, the price per pound could fetch somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000. In California’s regulated recreational market, the farmers were promised up to $1,200 per pound, per contract. But in the final analysis of bringing it to market, farmers were offered a take-it-or-leave-it deal of just $400 a pound, contract or not. How did this happen?

“It costs me close to $500 to grow one pound,” Casali says. “To give you an example of a neighboring ag situation, Napa Valley grape growers are taxed $15 per acre and cannabis farmers are taxed between $4,200 to $5,000 per acre. That’s $1 per square foot; making cannabis the highest taxed agricultural crop in the world.”

Add $161.28 California State tax per pound, then $150 or so per pound to trim, plus Water Board, Fish & Game fees and untold thousands of additional dollars for improvements made for most farmers to come into compliance. Anyone can see that, on paper, this is the beginning of the collapse of the historic, heritage small cannabis farmers.

“We’re predicting that by the next season, we’ll lose 50% of our small farmers up here,” Casali says.

To provide a better overall idea about what California’s cannabis industry to the north has been through since the legalization of adult-use began, the County of Humboldt estimated that there were 15,000 small cannabis farmers operating when legalization went on the ballot with Prop. 64 in November of 2016—with no issues of meeting supply and demand, and nary a pound left on any shelf.

Today, there are currently 400 permit holders in Humboldt County alone, with Casali predicting 200 will have to stop farming in the next year, unable to afford to farm in a legal market.

“When we lost the one-acre rule the night before legalization, that put a nail in the coffin of most of our small farmers,” Casali says. “The corporate farms, or those with the most financial backing, began buying up the smaller farm’s licenses, beginning what’s called ‘stacking licenses.’ One large-scale, well-funded farm nearby has maybe 20 licenses stacked right now.”

The one-acre rule was supposed to be the saving grace for the small farmer. The way it was taken away the night before legalization with lobbyists in a secret, closed-door meeting with California Gov. Gavin Newsom left many appalled. Many people called it a “good-old boys club” of wealthy California cannabis entities looking to operate beyond promised limits.

Cooperative umbrellas were another way the small farmer hoped to survive, but with a $400 per pound reimbursement, even those entities fell short at market.

Finger pointing aside, one issue slightly overlooked is the lack of safe access or retail space available for moving plant material from the farm. With a national insistence that the plant is not beneficial, many conservative cities and counties have banned cannabis access points. 

Growing A Mother’s Love

Casalis’ partner, Rose Moberly, joined him three years ago, relocating from her home state of Colorado, where she too learned to farm cannabis at an early age. “We both went to community college but gravitated back to our true passion, farming the plant,” Moberly says.

Sadly, Casali’s mother passed away while he was serving time. One year to the day of his imprisonment, she died of a heart attack while pulling canned goods from a freezer; she had planned on bringing them to Casalion her next visit to see him in prison. 

“My mother taught me everything I know about farming,” Casali says. “This farm is her legacy, and I just had to find a way to honor her. So, we created a new cultivar from a favorite strain she created, Paradise Punch, by crossing it with both Blueberry Kush and Lavender Kush, to make Mom’s Weed.”

When Moberly became part of his life on the farm, Casali said it could no longer be just about him.

“Rose’s mom, Margie Zietz, battled cancer and passed away in 2020,” he says. “We took Paradise Punch and crossed it with Rose’s mom’s favorite strain, Wishful Thinking, creating Margie’s Magic.”

For the small cannabis farmer still standing, many feel that branding is the key to success in the new market. Personalized cultivars grown in the sun for years in loamy redwood soil can’t be compared to indoor, large-scale operations. Promoting this difference is critical, and branding Huckleberry Farms “Mom” cultivars has been key in getting their flower to market.

Crystal Clear

Aside from the hard work and red tape that comes with being cannabis farmers, there are perks and magic to be found in the hills of the Emerald Triangle, with Casali and Moberly offering up wishes to special visitors via crystals.

“We had a load of rocks delivered from the local quarry and noticed some of the rocks smashed were hollow and full of crystals,” Casali says. “So, we began putting them aside and saving them for guests to open up.”

Everything about Huckleberry Hill Farms feels sentimental. The crystals, the mother plants, the fruit trees and grape arbors. The general layout of this small, less-than-an-acre farm has been landscaped with love and intention—with the cannabis plant and the people who love her memorialized at every turn. It’s a true trickle-down culture, straight from the farm, that not many will ever be aware of as they enjoy Huckleberry Hill’scultivars. 

“Cannabis is a profoundly mysterious plant,” Casali says reflectively. “And such a powerful, healing plant, that even after working with it my entire life, it feels like I’ve just begun to truly understand her. Rose and I are just grateful to be here another season. To be able to farm this land that my mother found for us and loved. Did I take one for the team by serving time in prison? Yes, and no. We’re going forward with love and good intentions for this life we love on the farm. That’s really what it’s all about.”

The post Face of the Farmer: John Casali, Huckleberry Hill Farms appeared first on Cannabis Now.