Amnesty Program Proposed for Legacy Emerald Triangle Cannabis Growers Left out of 'Legal Weed'

One of the biggest travesties of Proposition 64 and the “legalization” of cannabis in California has been the way that the legacy farmers from the Emerald Triangle have been hung out to dry by the state and its overbearing and misguided regulations.

The decimation of this Mecca of the cannabis culture should come as no surprise, however. In fact, it was predicted by many cannabis advocates as soon as they read the preliminary drafts of what would become the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, passed by a voter initiative in 2016. Before then, Cali boasted the largest medical marijuana market on the planet, but the state was not providing permits or licenses, and so was not pinching taxes out of every sale.

Pre-2016, a glance at the popular online marketplace Weedmaps

would reveal a hilarious state-smothering blanket of pinned locations to either walk into a store to buy weed or to have it delivered from. To supply those thousands of retailers, tens of thousands of cannabis growers were operating in the pseudo-legality provided by Prop 215 and SB 420, the state’s framework for legal medical cannabis.

Back in the Emerald Triangle, in Mendocino County alone over 10,000 cannabis farmers played one role or another in fueling the supply for the state’s growing demand for cannabis.

Today, under the harsh regulations and steep taxes and fees of Prop 64/AUMA, only 628 Mendocino farmers are legal, licensed entities with the state and their local jurisdiction. The other 9,000+ have been given a stark ultimatum – quit or else.

That “or else” has come in the form of a promise by the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, to burn up to $200,000,000 in cannabis tax revenues to beat back the black market through heightened activity by law enforcement against unlicensed entities. The governor’s promise has come in the form of Blackhawk helicopters thundering through the canyons to support military style raids on peaceful unpermitted farms throughout the region.

Mendocino County officials estimate that 90% of the grows in the region are unpermitted. This is not due to lazy farmers or some romance with an outlaw lifestyle, it is due to often impenetrable amounts of red tape for those who want to join the legal market. Mendocino County is infinitely more progressive on commercial cannabis than most California jurisdictions, but a laggy implementation of their local permitting process along with confusing ordinances and a short window to apply has left far too many of the legacy operators of Mendocino and surrounding counties in legal limbo, or even jeopardy.


Last week the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors heard an impassioned plea from local cannabis advocates speaking on behalf of the neglected farmers described above. The farmers, it turns out, haven’t given up. Instead, they had a proposal.

Tentatively dubbed the Cannabis Cultivation Amnesty Transition Pathway, the plan seeks to give an unspecified amount of time to local cannabis farmers to continue growing now, to be able to legally sell their crap at harvest, all while still working diligently toward satisfying the lengthy checklist handed down by state and local officials. This amnesty period, it is said, could extend “for years” but, it is argued, all of that weed would funnel into the legal, licensed market, instead of the thriving black market.

“Years” may seem open-ended, but it is important to remember that one of the most crippling blows to any potential success for Prop 64 came when a loophole was created to allow “license stacking” so that the massive corporations that have all but ruined the industry now could carve out massive sectors of the market and starve out the “little guys”. And that is exactly what we are seeing. Small farms were supposed to have a 5-year head start on this bullshit but morally bankrupt profiteers successfully fucked that up.

There is talk that Mendo could invite other Emerald Triangle communities to the table to craft an amnesty solution that could work as a template across Northern California. By including provisions for hot button issues like social equity, criminal justice reform, and a regional appellations program, the legacy Emerald Triangle farmers who literally sowed the seeds for “legal weed” may finally have a voice again.

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