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The Risky Biz of Cannabis

Columnist: Lawrence Amaturo
July, 2018 Issue

Lawrence Amaturo
All articles by columnist

God must have created the North Bay with “agribusiness” in mind. From the moment you drive North over the Golden Gate Bridge, the diverse microclimates, varied topsoil compositions and glorious sunshine join to create the perfect environment for growing just about anything.

It began well over 100 years ago with select grains and prize-winning fruits—some of which were famously named and shipped all around the world. Gravenstein apples, Grace Brothers grains and, of course, more than 800 varieties of plants engineered by Luther Burbank were among these. Olive, grape and cannabis growers now control the most select acreage and this month’s edition of NorthBay biz analyzes the business side of these crops as well as the folks who oversee their growth and distribution

Our cover story this month, “Growing Pains,” is about the newest entrant to North Bay agriculture—marijuana legalized by California state law. The laws create a maze of contradictions as local regulations bump into state regulations that both counter federal drug policy laws, thus making the navigation from planting to distributing a real puzzle. Bill Meagher takes a look at the challenges facing this industry. Of course, state, county and city municipalities hope to profit handsomely from this crop’s success. Private enterprise is investing billions as well throughout the state. 

For me, that’s when this gets especially complicated and scary. I have long-standing relationships with respected business builders who are profiting wildly from this green rush, and one friend who particularly comes to mind is an especially honest, forthright and great man. Meanwhile, the children of other family friends in the North Bay are fighting such serious marijuana addiction and dependence that they’ve been separated from their parents and are living in remote rehab centers thousands of miles from home. Supervision is now 24/7 and we pray for their speedy and healthy return. So you can see why I struggle with the ethics of profiting from a product that is deemed a Schedule 1 drug by federal law.

Cannabis is a complex topic with many sides, and the business angle receives most of the press in the North Bay these days. Bill’s angle in “Growing Pains” is directed accordingly.

Cali’s legal weed sales for January and February 2018 came in at $339 million. Many insiders, like the president and general counsel of the marijuana tracking resource, were “disappointed” because this amount was only one-tenth of the $3.4 billion purchased illegally during those same two months. It’s unclear if the state’s “taxation fixation” will keep the majority of sales in the black market.

What’s become resoundingly clear this year, is marijuana’s destructive ability as a gateway drug. Dr. Bertha Madras, a Harvard professor of psychobiology, has conducted research confirming marijuana’s corrosive power. Her team’s findings are not a collection of random data, but a 17,000-person study among 12 to 17 year olds. Children who use marijuana regularly have an eight-times greater risk of binge drinking, a nine-times greater risk of vaping or smoking cigarettes, and a 10-times greater risk of using other illicit drugs. In other words, among 12 to 17 year olds who have used marijuana in the past 30 days, 32 percent of them were also binge drinkers, 24 percent of them were also nicotine users, and 22 percent of them used cocaine, meth, opiates or other drugs during those same 30 days. Conversely, only 4 percent, 2.5 percent and 2 percent respective usage of these products was seen among non-marijuana users.

California’s new laws explicitly forbid access to marijuana to anyone under 21 years of age. The same is true in Oregon, but the reality is different. State regulators conducted a sting operation in December 2017 with an all-volunteer group of 18 through 20 year olds. Without a hitch, these underage citizens bounced into 86 different dispensaries and bought pre-rolled legal weed from 16 of them. 

Our great state condones, profits and aides in the consumption and distribution of marijuana. Our heroes in music and sports praise it and flaunt it. Our mainstream media promotes it—mine included. Our tax policy captures only 10 percent of actual consumption and statewide growers actually grow five times more than the $2 billion consumed within California each month. Our youth are increasingly more vulnerable and its gateway abilities are unquestionable.  Can you see why I’m conflicted?

As we continue to cover this topic, your opinion and experiences may bring stronger or counter points of view; share them with me at




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