Title: All Things Weed
By Lawrence Amaturo
Years ago, in an effort to lure millions of dollars to the city, it's rumored that Santa Rosa’s political leadership devised an ingenious plan to transform its economy. Their plan? Convince a man who had made a fortune in a highly competitive and often unscrupulous business to choose Santa Rosa for his most audacious project ever. They’d offer this entrepreneur land, natural resources, thousands of anxious workers, and a flexible legal framework to facilitate his plan. With more than $48 million to invest in Santa Rosa and the surrounding area, city fathers bent over backwards to win his attention. So much so, that they hastily named three city streets in his honor to show their undying love.
Alas, the candidate politely declined the city’s offer, citing the city’s strict temperance laws as his reason and purchased 8,000 acres of land just south of San Francisco instead. Yet a century later, those Santa Rosa street names still remain—Leland Street, Stanford Street and Junior Street. The irony of all this lingers as well. Stanford University's magnificent campus has made Palo Alto, not Santa Rosa, the envy of the world for its engineering and technological advancements. Santa Rosa’s current leadership, having chosen an alternative path, has dedicated itself to becoming the world's center of all things weed.
This month, we devote an entire issue to this industry. Becoming marijuana’s epicenter will undoubtedly bring millions of dollars into the city, perhaps billions into the North Bay. As such, this magazine will continue to cover this industry from various business angles. Many of our columnists also speak out on this industry, and I’m pleased that Bob Andrews has returned from sabbatical to share his point of view in Open Trench.
And yes, industry PR agents be damned, I will remain quite the out-of-touch iconoclast to use terms other than “cannabis” to articulate myself! With roughly 55 million Americans now smoking, vaping and ingesting marijuana, the societal impacts are unsettling. Most reasonable folks agree that this drug must be kept out of the hands of children and their developing brains, but its normalization is making this more and more difficult.
A 2016 National Institute of Drug Abuse research study reports that 24 percent of 10th graders have consumed pot over the past 12 months and more than 14 percent of them in the prior 30 days. Among high school seniors, 36 percent report usage over the past year and 23 percent in the past 30 days. A recent study suggests these numbers are lower in states where legalization has occurred, but continued normalization is likely to overwhelm this finding. More troubling is the dramatic rise among young, non-college educated adults. Daily use for non-college educated adults has exploded and is now triple that of their peers.
In this issue, we also detail the ever-changing legal and regulatory framework within which growers, manufacturers, and dispensaries must grapple. It is an exceedingly complex issue, fraught with opposing laws and priorities. This fragmentation has blown the door wide open for fraud and continued criminality throughout the state.
Cannabis tracking firm New Frontier Data estimates as much as 80 percent of the marijuana sold in California comes from the black market. Moving all this weed to the consumer is a vast network of illegal dispensaries. VICE Magazine reports that the state's highly lauded seed-to-sale "traceability system" is a complete failure; a virtual Potemkin Village of the industry built to deceive us into believing that accountability and regulation actually exist.
In Los Angeles, city officials now estimate that illegal marijuana storefronts outnumber legal ones by a factor of 10. For every licensed dispensary, 10 illegal ones exist without regulation; without quality control, without regard for the age of the buyer, and without any obligation to pay state taxes. The State’s Bureau of Cannabis Control has licensed approximately 650 pot retailers, but has slapped nearly 3,000 others with cease-and-desist letters for operating without these state licenses. Three thousand letters and only a mere 15 people have actually been charged with violating state law! Spokespeople for the bureau don’t even know how many illegal pot shops have even closed down after receiving these flaccid warnings. True enforcement has been left to the municipalities where these black market operators operate; but they have their own strained resources to worry about. LA's Marijuana Enforcement Unit filed 70 misdemeanor cases last year against 700 felons for operating weed shops without a license.
Love this industry or hate it, these are troubling statistics. To put a fine point onto how lackadaisical the state sees this issue, this year's $210 billion budget only allocates $40 million for enforcement. That’s less than 0.02% of the budget. Seventy-three of the Bureau of Cannabis Control's nearly 150 budgeted positions have yet to be even staffed. In my opinion, it's a total joke.
Your thoughts and opinions are always most appreciated. Stay in touch with me at Lawrence@Northbaybiz.com
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