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It’s easy to complain in these dark days of the emerging legal cannabis industry. There seems to be no limit of negative stories about how the combination of state and county taxes and regulations are bringing us down and, that as a result, the corporate giants may take over the cannabis world. As we witness the demise of so many of our colleagues’ brands and businesses, it is tempting to hide our heads in a pile of weed and cry for the good old days.
But wait a minute. Who’s to say we won’t be yearning for the present times in the future? I have no doubt that exhausted gold miners back in 1850 often kicked themselves for leaving comfortable homes in other parts of the world in their quest for treasure in the mountains and rivers of California. The difficulties they encountered as they eked out meager quantities of gold dust, while living in hardscrabble conditions, make our lives look like Easy Street. Yet I can guarantee that 30 years later, as they drank champagne in elegant San Francisco drinking establishments, they yearned for the “good old days when we were simple miners.” Time has a way of glorifying the past and burning away the hardships.
Yes indeed, we can reminisce for hours about being cannabis outlaws and about how easy it was to grow it, dry it, trim it and stick it in a plastic bag and sell it right away. No taxes, no fancy packaging, no rules and regulations to fret about. Yet how easy it is to forget the stress that came along with living illegal lives, with never being able to fully be ourselves when out in public. We humans tend to see the past through rose colored glasses, ignoring the daily anxieties when they don’t fit into the perfect picture. In retrospect, life was pretty darn good. Even though we were pioneers, we certainly had it easier than the forty-niners. Plus we had the bonus of getting high on great weed. But honestly, life back in the early days of growing cannabis certainly had its challenges.
Likewise, right now as we struggle through this quagmire of new regulations, we have challenges that seem overwhelming. However, I am not the only one who is starting to feel a slight let-up in the doldrums of daily issues. Or maybe more realistically, we are just becoming familiar with them and learning how to cope in a more relaxed fashion. As more time passes, I trust we will adjust to the new system and hopefully new and better ones will fall into place. Before long, we’ll be fondly remembering the good old days right after legalization in 2018. “How innocent we were,” we’ll chuckle with knowing smiles.
What at present may seem like a tremendous burden becomes a glorious memory as time passes. The few of us craft farmers who are still standing in this business are already reflecting on what we have been through and how we have made it this far. “Remember that year they changed the packaging wording three times?” We are the pioneers of the legal cannabis business in California. We are the core group of tenacious companies dedicated to surviving and committed to sharing the best of the best with the rest of the world. We are still riding the roller coaster. We’re in for the long haul and proud of it.
So while we may be bitching today about adapting to the changes, I have no doubt that in the future we will be bragging about it. Already journalists come to the survivors asking for stories of the transition to being legal. Documentaries are being made and cannabis museums are opening in a few places across the state. We are history, while we continue to make history and the world wants to know the stories.
It’s quite an odd feeling, one day you are a young and vital member of your community and in the blink of an eye you become a “respected elder.” How did that happen? I often wonder if those wonderful fellow outlaw/grower friends who are no longer in their bodies were still alive, what would they think? So many stories are lost with them. Nevertheless, it is up to us to carry on as best we can and tell our own stories.
To that end, a group is beginning to form here in the Emerald Triangle, spearheaded by the indomitable Pebbles Trippet. To quote Pebbles, who has been a peace and cannabis activist since the early 60s, there is a need for “An elders council of the cannabis community that embodies the knowledge of the whole derived from decades of experience from the underground. By gathering that knowledge, we can better prepare for the unknown future.”
What is especially heartwarming are the younger folks nurturing the process. They recognize the value of the lessons to be garnered from the elders. Thanks to people from the younger generations, such as Casey O’Neill, Jenn Procacci and Phoebe Smith, a few gatherings have already been held with ideas and stories shared. This feeling of respect for all is definitely part of the “good new days” and a great step into a bright new future.
The cannabis farms of California’s Emerald Triangle are often cloaked in mystery, but a new book is giving a glimpse into the world of cannabis farmers deep in the Humboldt hills. The book, “Sustainable Sun-Grown Cannabis,” is a celebration of outdoor cultivation from the photographer Justin McIvor, better known as Justin Cannabis.
Thanks to McIvor’s photos and emphasis on sustainable cultivation, the book is a visual guide to regenerative growing techniques like soil building, polyculture, solar panels and rainwater catchment.
“Ultimately I made this book to shine a light on a few amazing cannabis cultivators in Southern Humboldt who are dedicated to protecting our valuable resources while producing premium quality cannabis products,” McIvor said in regards to Humboldt’s Finest Farms, the collective of farmers he spent time documenting in the heart of the Emerald Triangle.
the benefits of biodiversity, raising awareness about the importance of healthy
soil, and highlighting cannabis plants that have been sun-ripened to perfection
and lovingly nurtured to reach their fullest potential, McIvor is hoping his
book can introduce people to the beauty and variety that environmentally
responsible practices can bring to the garden.
The book is an artistic celebration of stacking functions — a term used in permaculture to describe a system where every element in a design provides more than one function. For example, polyculture plays an important role in creating a diverse network of roots under the soil as well as making the landscape above ground more aesthetically pleasing and attractive to pollinators.
Full-page color photographs show thriving gardens full of bright orange marigolds, bold red zinnias and yellow sunflowers that provide vibrant pops of color against a sea of green. In one image titled “Conserving Water,” the gorgeous deep turquoise of a rainwater-filled pond in the foreground leads the eye up to a row of emerald green grapevines, rolling golden hills and an elegant Japanese-style handcrafted greenhouse.
photo, a stocky cola unexpectedly shoots up from the hood of a rusty old farm
truck, glowing soft and golden in the late afternoon light. Another picture
shows long, stringy clusters of yellow corn and purple amaranth standing tall
next to an expanse of pointy spears backlit by the sun.
McIvor said he
fell in love with photography because it helped him capture and engage with the
beauty around him. After graduating from the Brooks Institute of Photography
and working as a lab technician taking pictures of DNA blots, he followed his
passion for skateboarding and landed a job as a photographer for Santa Cruz
Skateboards, helping to elevate their magazine ads and catalogs. He
transitioned from skateboarding to cannabis and, after many years as a cover
photographer for High Times and other publications, he’s once again coming back
to skateboard photography and is now focusing on the connection between the two
With family in Humboldt who’d been growing cannabis since the ’80s, McIvor said he had a natural connection to the Emerald Triangle and a familiarity with the scene before starting the book. His captions provide important context about what sets sungrown craft cannabis apart from the rest — most importantly, the awesome power of the sun.
“Energy usage in the indoor cannabis
industry is growing at an alarming rate and giant warehouse producers are using
a tremendous amount of power for their grows,” he says. “Those who grow in the
sun know it’s the best way moving forward.”
For those who’ve only seen cannabis grown as a monoculture crop in a warehouse under artificial lights, this book provides a visually striking introduction to a whole new paradigm. It’s a tribute to the legendary Humboldt craft farmers who are continuing to show the world that by increasing biodiversity on your farm and working with the forces of nature, you can produce cannabis that is truly of the highest quality.
On Octorber 15th, we talked to Subcool, the legendary seed breeder from Northern California and creator of the fabled Pinot Noir strain, about escaping the California wildfires, how the cannabis community will rise from the ashes, how he names his strains, and more. How have the California wildfires affected you? The wildfires are still going […]
decades, growers from Northern California’s Emerald Triangle — the area encompassing Mendocino,
Humboldt and Trinity counties — have been the epicenter of America’s cannabis
The Golden State had the first legal medical marijuana market with the passing of Prop 215 in 1996. Proposition 64, the Adult Use Act, legalized growing, selling and using cannabis recreationally in November 2016.
Thousands of cannabis businesses have emerged since, all trying to establish themselves in an already saturated and highly regulated market. The industry has seen unparalleled innovation and investment across categories like product development and technology, causing a so-called “Green Rush.” It has been predicted that by 2024, the California cannabis market will comprise 25% of the entire market for cannabis in the U.S.
due to the immaturity of the market, little data is available to help support
the industry. In order to help shape product development and strategic
decision-making, companies need to ask fundamental questions, like who buys the
product and what do they use it for?
help fill these knowledge gaps, NorCal Cannabis Company undertook a first-of-its-kind
study of California’s cannabis consumers. Using an online panel, the survey
questioned 1529 people and represents of all California cannabis consumers 21
years and older.
Graham is the VP of Business Intelligence at NorCal Cannabis Company. He helps
the company make smarter business decisions using data. According to Graham,
they decided to carry out this research because “there were many fundamental
questions about the California cannabis consumer that were unanswered, so we
decided to conduct research on our own.”
to Graham, the most surprising thing he discovered during the research process
was that many of the preconceptions about cannabis aren’t true. So they decided
to group their findings into five myths:
1: Recreational users
get high for fun, while medical users are focused on their health.
reality is, most cannabis consumers use cannabis for both recreational and
2: Women are an
emerging market segment of new cannabis consumers.
fact, women already use cannabis as much as men.
3: A handful of brands
are dominating the California cannabis market.
truth is that no brand has achieved a significant foothold in the market.
4: All Californians
have access to legal cannabis.
in reality, they don’t.
5: Consumers are
migrating from dispensaries to delivery.
In reality, consumers want an omnichannel experience to maximize their experiences.
concerns us is the lack of availability that exists for regulated cannabis for
so many people,” says Graham on the finding. “The research shows how cannabis
gives relief for so many people for things like pain, insomnia and depression.
California voters approved the legalization of cannabis, but people still do
not have legal access throughout most of the state.”
believes that the study is important because it shows that cannabis helps with
“a variety of fundamental and important ways” and it isn’t a simple case of
‘recreational’ and ‘medicinal’
would like people to understand that many of the assumptions they have about
cannabis consumers, cannabis usage, and cannabis availability may be wrong,”
To read the NorCal Cannabis Company’s report in full, visit norcalcann.com.
Northern California’s legendary cannabis grower and audaciously outspoken activist Bailous Eugene Smith — universally known as B.E. — passed away at a hospital in Redding, California on Jan. 6, following complications from bypass surgery, according to family and friends. He was 72 years old.
Smith was born in Alabama, but came to California’s north country with his family while he was still a young boy. He did two tours of duty in Vietnam at the height of the war in the late ’60s, and came back to America suffering from PTSD. He initially turned to alcohol to cope, but soon “transitioned to pot,” in the words of his daughter-in-law, Rose Betchart Smith.
For a while, he worked as a tree-feller in the local timber industry. However, by the late ’70s, he became a real outlaw — joining a group of gold prospectors in the deep back-country of the remote and rugged Trinity Alps, living off the land in the wilderness. Although the U.S. Forest Service considered them trespassers, they claimed legitimacy under an 1872 mining law, which allows claim-staking on the public lands. The USFS admitted in 1982 that it had “lost control” of some 100,000 acres of Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
The outlaw miners were cleared out in a series of raids by Forest Service enforcement and National Guard troops in 1983 — a direct precursor to the militarized Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), which began immediately thereafter.
When I first interviewed Smith for High Times magazine in 1994, he told me he was sure that the elite anti-terrorist Delta Force was brought in for the raids, although the Pentagon would not confirm this. “Denny Canyon was a test run for the War on Drugs,” he told me, referring the gulch where the miners staked their claim.
By the early ’90s, Smith had settled in Denny, the unincorporated village on the edge of the canyon, where he switched from gold prospecting to growing cannabis — initially to treat his PTSD. But he also won a clientele, as his renown as a skilled cultivator grew. Smith boasted to me that one of his clients was Merle Haggard, the country music legend who lived in neighboring Shasta County.
In this time period, Smith began to emerge as a grassroots political voice. He developed a following among local growers, bikers and rednecks as a “constitutionalist” libertarian, asserting a right to grow cannabis — and drive without license or seat-belt — under his populist interpretations of English common law.
“The marijuana laws don’t apply to private citizens,” he told me. “If you don’t grow under contract to the federal government, the Marihuana Tax Act doesn’t apply to you.”
Smith only got bolder with the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, making California the first state in the country to allow cultivation, sale and use of medical marijuana. The following year, he started growing openly — as the designated caregiver for some 30 patients around the state. One was Sister Somayah Kambui, a veteran Black Panther in Los Angeles who used cannabis to treat pain from sickle-cell anemia.
He grew 87 plants at the site, on the land of his neighbor and friend Martin Lederer, an elderly German immigrant. This number was chosen partially in sentimental reference to 1787, the year the U.S. Constitution was signed — but also to keep the number below 99, that at which the five-year federal mandatory minimum sentence kicks in. He said patients could expect to purchase 17 ounces of untrimmed bud for $500. Paperwork indicating that he was a designated caregiver under California law was prominently posted at the grow site, and he painted the roof of a nearby shed for helicopters to see with the words: “MEDICAL MARIJUANA, CALL TRINITY COUNTY SHERIFF.”
During the period he was taking this openly defiant stance, Smith won significant media attention, including a segment on the Discovery Channel’s “Weed Country” series.
However, on Sept. 24, 1997, U.S. marshals and Forest Service agents raided Smith’s grow. The marshals rode helicopters into Denny and seized Smith’s plants. In November of that year, a federal grand jury brought felony cultivation charges against Smith. Lederer also faced charges, and a forfeiture proceeding against his property.
When I spoke to Smith after the raid, he was typically intransigent. “You don’t have a crime if there’s no corpus delicti — the injured party,” he said. “Where’s the corpus delicti? There is none. The War on Drugs is a scam.”
Smith was defended in the Sacramento courtroom by the activist attorney Tom Ballanco, who is today a Trinity resident himself. Reached for comment at his off-the-grid homestead this week, Ballanco recalled the arguments his team made to the jury. “We claimed a medical necessity defense, first and foremost,” he says. “But we also argued that there was no federal jurisdiction, on states’ rights grounds. As an intra-state matter, it didn’t concern the federal government. The primacy of state law was one of B.E.’s pet theories.”
Ballanco emphasizes that the states’ rights argument would actually be vindicated years later in the 2011 Cole Memo, the Justice Department document instating a policy of non-interference in state-legal cannabis cultivation or sale (recently rescinded by the Trump administration).
Smith’s patients were brought in to testify, including Kambui, and a man who had lost his leg in a motorcycle accident and was dealing with “phantom pain.” But District Judge Garland E. Burrell barred any mention of medical marijuana in their testimony, on the grounds that it was not recognized by federal law. The patients could only serve as character witnesses. Ballanco also brought in the actor Woody Harrelson as a character witness.
Smith was convicted on May 21, 1999 and sentenced to serve 27 months in federal prison. Betchart Smith notes sadly that the sentence came down on Aug. 6 — which was the 33rd birthday of B.E. Smith, Jr., her husband and the defendant’s son.
Smith served his time at the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon. Lederer pleaded guilty and got nine months, which he was able to serve locally. He was also able to keep his property.
After his release, Smith had to lay low for a few years, as he remained on probation. But he eventually returned to the political arena, in his trademark irreverent style. He repeatedly ran for sheriff of Trinity County — mostly as a protest candidate — and even threw his hat in the ring for governor of California in the 2003 gubernatorial recall election.
“I am proud to be his daughter-in-law, and proud of his accomplishments as a freedom fighter,” said Betchart Smith. “He taught me how to research law, speak up for the people, be a government watchdog and more.”
Betchart Smith says that in his final days, Smith had reflected on the current political polarization in the country, and his wish for a renewed sense of unity. “One thing he told me last month while in the hospital was that he just wanted ‘Americans to be Americans’,” she says.
TELL US, how do you fight for your right to cannabis?