They call it the “California Way,” and they want to hold onto it.
A group that supports small-scale marijuana farming is out with a series of billboards, bus ads, and YouTube videos promoting the mom-and-pop approach to the cannabis industry. “Craft farmers,” the spots say. “Small batch. Sustainable. The California Way.”
This approach has indeed dominated marijuana cultivation in the Golden State for generations. And now many fear it could be in danger.
California voters may legalize the drug for recreational use in November, when a proposal pushed by tech billionaire Sean Parker will likely appear on the statewide ballot. The presence of big Silicon Valley money and the prospect of drooling corporations has some in the cannabis industry a little nervous.
The state has already been stepping quickly toward reform in recent months. Late last year Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that imposed tight new rules on medical marijuana, a law passed in anticipation of full legalization.
Small-time farmer fear they’ll lose grip on market
For the most part, the future is bright, and reformers eager. But there is concern beneath the sunny surface. Small-time farmers, the kind who produce the vast majority of California’s – and the nation’s – pot supply, fear they could lose their hold on all that product, the profits that come with it, and the unique character those profits support.
It’s a worry that plagues many observers outside the industry as well. If “Big Tobacco” was able to peddle its wares to countless teens over the years, what about “Big Marijuana?” Even celebrities pose a threat: Whoopi Goldberg, Snoop Dogg, and the family of Bob Marley already sell branded marijuana product that compete with family growers.
The “California Way” campaign seeks to preserve some of the charm of the current state of affairs. With a $200,000 budget provided by San Francisco delivery service Flow Kana, the effort aims to buttress the future of the “craft cannabis” approach.
Seeking to preserve “craft cannabis” approach
Supporters are using reliable tactics, comparing mom-and-pop marijuana to craft beer. They’re also pointing out the environmental conscience of small-time farmers, many of who work to reduce pollution and cut back on water waste. Legalization should help, since most of the damage comes from illegal growers in the Emerald Triangle.
Flow Kana currently represents a small but growing network of cultivators, a group it hopes will number in the hundreds after the legalization vote.
“Small co-ops are the only way that small farmers can exist,” said Michael Steinmetz, the company’s founder. “We’re trying to grow and build infrastructure for them. We can give them economies of scale.”
Small growers joining forces ahead of November vote
Sean Doahoe, an industry consultant out of Oakland, said an increasing number of growers are banding together in advance of an open market.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of farms coming together,” Donahoe said. “They could come together under geographic appellations or other” shared qualities.
There is plenty of money to be made in legal cannabis, whether for giant corporations or farmers with a few acres to their names. The state’s medical marijuana industry generated $2.7 billion in sales in 2015, more than 60 percent of the national market. California stands to bring in nearly $4 billion more per year by 2020.
But small cultivators could end up with a fight on their hands. Big corporations, possibly including pharmaceutical firms and tobacco companies, could try to enter a legal market after November. And there are other problems: The federal government still prohibits marijuana for any use, and banks still refuse to work with the industry.
The “California Way” push can’t solve those problems. But its backers hope it can at least hold onto a little of what makes local marijuana great.