I couldn’t find a single person at the State of Marijuana Conference ’16 on the Queen Mary last week willing to predict anything other than success for Proposition 64, the measure that could legalize cannabis in California for adult recreational use.
Polls continue to show that almost two-thirds of California’s likely voters support passage, though things could tighten up closer to election day.
No question, a pungent wind is blowing across America. Already, adult use of marijuana is legal in Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska. And in November, voters in eight other states will be making choices about legalizing recreational and medical marijuana.
In California, communities up and down the state are scrambling. City councils and boards of supervisors are passing ordinances, moratoriums and bans. Some are courting industry, getting ready to capitalize on what has been described as a coming “green rush.” Others are sticking their heads in the sand.
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In the last few years, a virtual mini-industry of cannabis conferences has sprung up, featuring not just the latest on legislation and research but tons of discussion about investment, innovation, branding and, inevitably, the coming clash between the legacy cannabis world – “the dreadlocked warriors, the rainbow revolutionaries, the radical faeries, the wise earth mothers,” in the words of Oakland dispensary owner Steve DeAngelo – and the forces of commercialization.
“We are seeing the first signs of what is going to be a monumental collision,” said DeAngelo, founder of the state’s largest dispensary, Harborside, and president of ArcView Group, a cannabis investor network. “It’s going to be wrenching, it’s going to be jarring, it’s going to be shocking.”
He urged his legacy cannabis colleagues to embrace the changes, to take advantage of the capital infusion and the expertise offered by techies and established entrepreneurs.
“Their presence is powerfully dampening the stigma associated with cannabis,” he said. “And the financial success of the industry is encouraging and motivating ever-increasing numbers of businesses, individuals and organizations who were opposed to us a few years ago, or at their best, neutral. And now they are turning into our best friends. Why? Because America loves a winner, and we are winning now.”
There is another collision coming as well. It is the one between the states and the federal government – specifically the Drug Enforcement Administration – which rejected petitions this summer calling on the agency to change how marijuana is classified. Despite the fact that millions of Americans are prescribed cannabis for pain, for nausea, for post-traumatic stress issues, for epilepsy and so on, the plant remains a Schedule 1 drug, considered as dangerous as cocaine and heroin, devoid of medicinal value.
“And of course,” said DeAngelo, “Big Pharma is right there by their side.”
I was fascinated by the stories of local officials, who came to the Queen Mary to compare notes on how they are dealing with cannabis.
The City Council of Coalinga caused an uproar among its citizens in January, when it approved medical marijuana cultivation and a dispensary. But when Ocean Grown Extracts, a medical cannabis oil manufacturer, offered to buy the local private prison, whose mothballing had cost Coalinga 100 jobs and a million dollars a year in revenue, voters reconsidered.
“The game changer was when we told people we can provide opportunity to fill a void left by other businesses,” said Coalinga City Councilman Nathan Vosburg. “When you lose a million dollars, you can either cut or create revenue. If we can get a company to come in and make medicine, that’s a step in the right direction. We sold the prison to them for $4.1 million. The city of Coalinga will be out of debt.”
Anni Marshall, the mayor of Avalon, came looking for answers to a unique problem. There’s no legal way to get pot to her island.
“Any advice so that every one of our patients is not breaking the law?” she asked Dana Rohrabacher, the Republican congressman who has pushed fellow conservatives to support legalization for years.
“I don’t have a magic bullet on this,” he said. “We are evolving out of the most stupid law in the history of our country. I’m sorry. There is no easy answer.”
With that, he put on a black baseball cap. It said, “Make cannabis great again.”
Robin Abcarian is a Los Angeles Times columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @AbcarianLAT