The Sonoma County Gazette: Community News Magazine
Sonoma County Gazette
| more

Photo Gallery

The End of Prohibition


The End of Prohibition

By Terry Garrett

During the 1920s alcohol prohibition, one zealot suggested that, “liquor law violators should be hung by the tongue beneath an airplane and carried over the United States”. Another suggested that the government should poison liquor supplies through the bootleggers distribution, even though she admitted that several hundred thousand Americans would die as a result, she said it was worth the price.

That expression exposes the underlying psychosis of a movement, septic in an individual, and dangerous to society when fused in the collective. What began as a ban on alcohol degenerated into a cruel assault on those who drink.

Advocacy for alcohol prohibition began in the early 1800s and was fought over a century until the 18th Amendment was enacted to prohibit the production of alcohol in 1920. It has served as an example of our government’s failure to effectively legislate and sustain the unenforceable.

Alcohol prohibition lasted thirteen years, while cannabis has dragged on for more than eighty years.

End of Cannabis Prohibition

Here we are in Sonoma County, plopped smack dab in the middle of the world’s center of cannabis production exiting a long-running prohibition of cannabis. Now we’re entrusted with the singular task of disentangling ourselves from this barbed bramble of federal government social fencing.

Based on research into cannabis cultivation practices and yields per square foot for indoor, greenhouse and sun grown operations, it’s estimated that Sonoma County growers, numbering around 9,000, produce between $3 to $3.5 billion per year for the wholesale cannabis market. Local residents consume about $150 million of that supply and the rest is exported.

Sonoma County’s regulatory bodies have to absorb a mature, fully functioning sector of the economy that is larger than any other sector in terms of jobs and gross production. That’s a tall order for the regulators and the regulated. The odds are stacked against a smooth process. But, our economic health hangs in the balance.

If we get it wrong and don’t usher in a period of compliance and regulatory peace, then we stand to lose a significant portion of our current economy. Bear in mind that if our cannabis wholesale production is indeed $3.5 billion, then approximately $3 billion of that is presently expended in labor, goods and services locally.

A loss of that magnitude is not just a dent in Sonoma County’s $23 billion economy. It’s 13% of our economy.

Let’s get it right on cultivation. Here are a few suggestions toward that aim.

Move as many commercial cultivation sites as possible to outdoor and greenhouse on agriculturally zoned lands. This will be particularly difficult for growers who have specialized with indoor cultivation in residential neighborhoods.

It’s even more of a problem for cultivators on lands zoned in rural residential (RRD, RR and AR).

In order to help in the transition mentioned above, there will need to be ways to accommodate those growers by allowing them to form cooperatives and to share parcels of land with multiple permits and licenses. There will no doubt continue to be indoor cultivation within commercial buildings. There is, however, not enough commercial space to accommodate the transition from residential grow operations.

Streamline the licensing process (speed and ease) to allow for unlimited numbers of licenses, but restrict the canopy size to a maximum of one acre as prescribed in MCRSA (Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act). Also, for at least the near future keep a cap on total acreage licensed for cultivation at 500. Keep in mind that Sonoma County growers can produce $3.5 billion on less than 500 acres. Allowing a large, diverse growing population of entrepreneurial farmers is the best strategy for producing amazing product and withstanding market dynamics. Limiting production will allow regulators and producers to stabilize under a new regulated system.

We have a chance to cream the cannabis market, i.e. skim the richest part of it. We can produce the best product in the world. The safest, purest products are grown and manufactured and the most sustainable operations are located in Sonoma County. Sonoma County cannabis sector sets the highest standards worldwide. That becomes our brand.

It’s a major undertaking to take that brand position and not without its risks. It requires tremendous coordination between regulators, policy makers and industry leaders and players. Regulation needs to create the least amount of friction for producers so they can focus on innovation and reducing costs to stay competitive.

Sonoma County can stand strong and weather the changes sure to come if we can unify around strategy and support the producers in the impending transition.