Wine to Weed Country

In the lobby of the OrganiCann medical marijuana dispensary in Santa Rosa, California hangs a picture of what can only be the unmistakable landscape of Sonoma County. It is a familiar scene, the rolling hills of yellow grass, speckled with patches of clustered trees, the long rows of plants in what looks like any other vineyard. Upon closer inspection one realizes they are pot plants. Is this the future of California’s wine country? What exactly would the passing of Proposition 19 on November’s ballot mean for California’s economy?

The election is getting close and the country is watching, waiting to see whether weed will become as legal as alcohol in the state of California-that is taxable and regulated for recreational as well as medicinal use. The ballot measure known as Proposition 19 has gained a majority popularity, probably because of its promises of helping solve California’s economic crisis. No doubt, the only way to pass the initiative was to appeal to people’s wallets. Most know pot is one of the state’s biggest cash crops, and with a large amount of the proceeds going straight into producers pockets tax-free, making it an untapped resource for deficit relief.

So, it is no surprise that some of the small-scale growers who currently make a profit off their efforts are opposed to the possibility of having to pay taxes or price drops due to larger commercial ventures, such as the one owned by Richard Lee, already operating in Oakland.

According to the owner of one Sonoma County hydroponic supply store and personal grower himself, those small-scale growers are the people that are going to be impacted negatively by legalization.

“I feel bad for a lot of people who’ve been growing their whole lives, and don’t really know how to do anything else. They’re going to have to think of something else to do. The cost of growing is already getting so high, if pot prices for come down any lower, it won’t be worth it.”

The anonymous store owner states that approximately ninety percent of his clientele, all small growers, are against Prop. 19.

“The ones who are for it are either misinformed or don’t know what they’re voting for.”

While he doesn’t believe that his own store’s business will be hurt, he is concerned that Wal-Mart and other corporate stores will begin carrying the supplies he so carefully stocks and recommends to his customers, even though the Wal-Mart of hydroponics and mega-grow-store also already exists in Oakland.

“Places like Igrow, are not really personal. We will help someone design a room from scratch. They’re just gonna tell you to buy a book.”

While I grow offers classes, consultants and even provides grow-room set-up services, it is the sheer size of the store which intimidates. Yet, it already exists, so wouldn’t it make sense to prepare for more competition of its scale?

One customer at the store admits that most of the opposition to Prop. 19 from growers is greed-based. When he was younger he dreamt about marijuana becoming legal, but now, without a college education, he feels like the most important thing is putting a dollar in his own pocket.

Krystal Reardon of Students for Sensible Drug Policy doesn’t feel so sorry for the growers in opposition to the proposition. She hopes California will legalize marijuana, making it an innovative leader for other states. While she admits she is not part of the demographic of people employed by the industry, she has relatives serving sentences for drug charges and doesn’t understand why the growers would oppose Prop. 19.

“People need to realize this about more than just them. If they get caught they’ll be sent into the same system. Don’t just try to monopolize. Don’t you want something bigger than just your own profits?”

She is also hopeful about the options for the people who currently grow quality marijuana.

“Maybe it will be corporatized, but I feel like there will still be a demand for the mom and pop. There’s Bud Lite and then there are microbrews. People are willing to pay more for a better product. It’s like cheese or any other food. Do you want Kraft singles or something better?”

Many feel that this opposition is irrational. If marijuana were legal, what would stop the small-scale growers from getting together and forming their own corporation? Why would they want to remain outlaws and keep risking their freedom and their families’ peace of mind? Would paying taxes really be so terrible?