CVIndependent

Thu11142019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Last month, I examined the economic boom expected in the city of Desert Hot Springs as a result of its decision to embrace the cannabis industry. It was the first Southern California city to allow legal cultivation—and economic opportunities from the cannabis industry are helping turning the city around.

As for the other eight Coachella Valley cities … almost half of them so far have yet to welcome any sort of marijuana businesses.

The five that have opened the door in some way to the cannabis industry understand that it can help create a diversified economy that is less dependent on tourism and the resulting service-oriented businesses. Anyone who owns a business in the Coachella Valley knows that summers can be tough—but the new cannabis industry offers more year-round business and increased professional opportunities.

Dirk Voss, a lead cannabis consultant for Urban Management Strategies, is a former chairman of the Desert Hot Springs Planning Commission. He was directly involved in the approval processes for many of the cannabis businesses in the city and has watched the industry evolve throughout the valley. Voss said the cannabis industry can offer cities a “multiplier effect,” because the year-round economic stability of cannabis bolsters other business sectors, including entertainment, recreation, housing and more.

Because Coachella Valley cities have each embraced—or eschewed—cannabis in different ways, Voss predicts each city will eventually have its own cannabis “flavor” or “culture.” For example, Palm Springs has approved lounges, which makes sense for the city and its downtown tourist culture. The city is positioning itself to become a cannabis tourist destination based on its distinct assets, much like Desert Hot Springs has by promoting health and its mineral spas.

In contrast, Cathedral City has positioned itself for large-scale cultivation. The city has utilized vacant land and existing yet unoccupied shopping centers for such facilities, helping revitalize portions of Date Palm Drive, Highway 111 and Perez Road. Because Cathedral City had a lot of vacant buildings—with existing utilities and infrastructure—new marijuana businesses were able to save money by locating there. In other words, city leaders found a great way to utilize the city’s specific assets to accommodate the cannabis industry.

The city of Coachella has taken a different approach, mandating that projects have a five-acre minimum and be part of a master-plan development with specific cannabis zoning. Voss said these mandates have presented challenges to some interested cannabis businesses, “especially since power has been an issue. However, the city is evolving and expanding its plan to get the best economic development possible. The city has some catching up to do, but it is also in line to have a culture of major cultivation opportunities in the city.”

Palm Desert, meanwhile, has taken a slow, methodical approach to introducing cannabis businesses to the city—limiting the number of licenses to allow for slow growth. While this means the city may not see the economic windfall that, say, Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs will, it also means the cannabis industry can be carefully incorporated into the city culture, thus avoiding over-saturation and allowing for manageable growth while the cannabis industry evolves.

At this point, cannabis businesses are not allowed in the cities of Indio, La Quinta, Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage—and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because surrounding or nearby cities have embraced cannabis, residents and visitors can still enjoy the benefits of the cannabis industry without dealing with the hassles and costs of regulating it in their cities.

Because the cannabis industry is so new, it’s also somewhat unstable—meaning there may be growing pains for the cities that have embraced marijuana. Voss cautions some organizations will be bought out; some will close; and others will try to sell their licenses while the industry adjusts. It is crucial, according to Voss, that each city “design their ordinances and codes around their ability to adapt in an industry that is constantly changing.”

There is no doubt that marijuana can help the Coachella Valley evolve from a seasonal tourist-driven economy into an area with a stronger year-round economy.

“Each city will eventually find its fit, which will only lead to an overall economic boom within the entire Coachella Valley,” Voss said. “The industry is naturally designing its own characteristics for each city based on the needs, wants and use of cannabis by its residents.”

Robin Goins is a business consultant for DR.G Consulting and works extensively in the cannabis industry in the Coachella Valley. For more information, visit www.drrobingoins.com.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

The California cannabis industry is now in its second year of legalization—and excitement within the industry is building. Experts in the Coachella Valley have been diligently preparing their forecasts for 2019—so we decided to ask them what they’re expecting to happen.

One leader in the industry is predicting great things for 2019. Adrian Sedlin, CEO of Canndescent, which has a large grow facility in Desert Hot Springs, is expecting the industry to boom as legalization spreads globally.

Sedlin notes that in 2018, the adult-use cannabis market tripled in population size, and says that as the industry grows with adult use, so will production. He also thinks the political arena is looking better for legalization, as more political candidates are promoting federal legalization.

“Many critics argue that California made a mess of things in its first year regulating adult-use cannabis,” Sedlin said. “(The year) 2019 will prove far more prosperous for license-holders as operating a cannabis business without a license will finally become a felony.” 

The economic potential in the Coachella Valley is huge, considering the amount of open land and the potential for cannabis-industry growth here. Brent Buhrman, CEO of Nationwide Cannabis Funding and president of the Coachella Valley Cannabis Alliance Network, is predicting the industry in the valley “will see an explosion of growth as new cannabis development becomes vertical and operational.” Buhrman also expects real estate in the valley to hold its value, especially with many cannabis investors who were waiting for two things to happen that, well, just happened: the passage of the Farm Bill and the departure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. These investors are “ready to play ball,” says Buhrman, “and the watchers are now ready to jump into the game.” Buhrman predicts the Coachella Valley will see a new wave of people and companies come forward as a result.

With the industry starting to mature, Sedlin does expect some—no pun intended—weeding out to occur. He foresees stocks changing drastically, and as a result, the “high-profile sackings” of two or three high-profile CEOs at publicly owned cannabis companies.

Other seasoned cannabis entrepreneurs see different transitions on the horizon. Eric Crowe, of Cathedral City-based Mystic Valley CBD, who has been on the forefront of the Colorado cannabis industry for the last 15 years, predicts Coachella Valley happenings will mirror much of what was seen in Colorado. Crowe is predicting a clearing in the industry, which will lead to legitimacy and credibility as well as a surge in canna-tourism. This surge, Crowe states, “will created unprecedented economic growth in the valley, which will include all ancillary business, such as construction, hospitality and all business trades.”

Crowe cautions that lessons learned from Colorado should be heeded as the Coachella Valley cannabis industry expands.

“All industry in the valley, in some way, will come to depend on the cannabis industry, and as it morphs and grows, oversaturation will happen,” he said.

As happened in Colorado, Crowe anticipates the quality and quantity of the goods in the market will reach capacity, which will result in price reductions and many companies closing as a result. Like Buhrman, he predicts this will allow a new group of players to come to the table. Crowe thinks some of the new business emphasis will be on medicinal uses for hemp, specifically 100 percent certified organic growth and production. He expects that the success of some within the industry will depend on new technology; for example, his company uses reverse-engineered sound-wave technology, which focuses on the DNA of the hemp plant in order to produce the highest level of CBD full-spectrum concentrations.

The economic outlook for the cannabis industry in 2019 and beyond looks very promising—but those in the industry will need to change along with the demands of the industry.

Robin Goins is a business consultant for DR.G Consulting and works extensively in the cannabis industry in the Coachella Valley. For more information, visit www.drrobingoins.com.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

As we approach the one-year anniversary of legal cannabis in California, the Coachella Valley has gone through many changes—specifically on the employment front.

As this new industry has evolved, so have the career prospects in the region, with many cannabis employers in the Coachella Valley ramping up to hire in large numbers in 2019. Understandably, many potential employees have questions about careers in the cannabis industry—and there are a few things any prospective employee should know before jumping in.

The job opportunities are numerous and continuing to grow along with the industry, ranging from entry-level jobs, such as budtenders and trimmers, to high-level growers and professional roles, such as human-resource work and executive leadership. While the high-end jobs can pay up to six figures, it is taking some time for the industry to catch up in terms of pay and benefits, although things are beginning to level out.

Remember that the majority of the cannabis companies in the Coachella Valley are ever-evolving, meaning companies are not as stable as many potential employees would like. Some these companies have experienced a level of “sticker shock” at the market rate for qualified employees. Brian Harmsen, CEO of Designworks Talent in Palm Springs, which specializes in cannabis job placement, cautions that although the cannabis industry is catching up, it is still behind the curve because of its infancy. He said it’s critical that any new employee understand the scope of the work—and understand the challenges currently facing the industry. Anyone interested in entering the industry must keep in mind it is an industry in flux, and therefore may not be good for those who are not flexible, he said. As with all startup industries, there are many kinks that will take time to work out. Harmsen said startup cannabis companies are risky, often disorganized, sometimes messy, fast-changing, and lacking in infrastructure. If you don’t have the ability to tolerate the dynamics of the industry in its current state, you may want to consider waiting until the California cannabis industry is more established, he said.

The instability and newness do not mean employees aren’t entitled to the protections afforded to them by U.S. and California labor laws—and many cannabis companies are hiring people without fully understanding the legalities of being an employer, breaking labor laws and thus putting their companies at risk. Jerry Cooksey, director of marketing and employment brand at Designworks Talent, said employees need to know their rights to ensure they are protected, especially as more and more cannabis companies are coming online and ramping up their hiring.

The fact that the industry is new affects both sides on the hiring equation; there are not a lot of people experienced in the cannabis industry for companies to hire. Because of these challenges, cannabis companies must carefully consider how they do their workforce planning in order to recruit the best talent. Cooksey said cannabis companies need to fully understand their brands and who they are, identify their workforce values, determine employee support (such as benefits and compensation packages), clearly define employment needs (including job analyses), and ensure they have legitimized their ability as an employer by understanding labor law and making sure they have all of the required insurance in place.

If you have determined you can tolerate the current state of the industry and are looking to be hired, Harmsen suggested that potential employees consider the size of the company and its culture, ask questions, and look at how the company is branding and marketing itself. Also: Take queues from the interview.

There is no doubt the “green rush” is bringing new employment opportunities to the Coachella Valley. The potential for economic development in cities like Desert Hot Springs, Coachella, Indio and Cathedral City is unprecedented, and each large facility opening can mean between 150 to 300 new jobs. As things level out in the coming years, we can expect to see a solvent and strong workforce in cannabis throughout the Coachella Valley.

Robin Goins is a business consultant for DR.G Consulting and works extensively in the cannabis industry in the Coachella Valley. For more information, visit www.drrobingoins.com.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

After California’s legalization of cannabis in January 2018, many people in the Coachella Valley noticed the start of a “Green Rush” of business—and have questions about how it will affect the economics in the valley.

Since this is a new industry in the state, that question can be answered, at least in part, by examining the outcomes in states that already have a history of legalized cannabis, such as Colorado. There is a great deal of data that can be gathered from that state showing the Coachella Valley may be on its way to—pardon the pun—much greener pastures.

In March, The Denver Post reported the results of a landmark study done by Colorado State University-Pueblo in Pueblo County, which found that legalized marijuana had an unprecedented impact on the economy. It found that the cannabis industry contributed $58 million to the local economy of Pueblo County alone in 2016. Once the costs of the industry were deducted—such as additional law enforcement and social services—the county still netted a $35 million economic benefit.

Other positive outcomes have included an increase in jobs, home values and philanthropic contributions, such as school scholarships and other community investments. A September 2017 article in Denver newspaper Westword reported on a study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison showing that the average property value for homes within a tenth of a mile of a dispensary increased by $27,000 after legalization. Westword reported that the study “also identified some underlying factors that may have increased property values in vicinities closest to dispensaries, including lower crime rates, additional amenities nearby and a surge in housing demand because of Denver's growing marijuana sector.” The study concluded that the industry had created 23,407 full time jobs in the state by January 2017.

In other words … so far, so good on the economic front. However, newly legal marijuana brings with it more than just business. In 2016, Andrew Freedman, then Colorado’s director of marijuana coordination—often called the state’s “marijuana czar”—told High Times: “At the end of the day, the debate shouldn’t be about tax revenue. ‘Should we lock up fewer people for marijuana?’ vs. ‘Is this going to create more of a burden on public safety?’—that’s where the debate should be.”

Fortunately, the news thus far is good regarding public safety, too. I have seen no data that suggests legalization had any impact on homeless rates or marijuana use among youth—two frequent concerns in communities when marijuana is first legalized—and some peer-reviewed studies show legal marijuana actually decreases crime. A 2017 study published in The Economic Journal concluded: “We show that the introduction of medical marijuana laws leads to a decrease in violent crime in states that border Mexico. The reduction in crime is strongest for counties close to the border … and for crimes that relate to drug trafficking. In addition, we find that MMLs in inland states lead to a reduction in crime in the nearest border state. Our results are consistent with the theory that decriminalization of the production and distribution of marijuana leads to a reduction in violent crime in markets that are traditionally controlled by Mexican drug trafficking organizations.”

So … what does all of this mean for the Coachella Valley, as more and more cities began allowing dispensaries and other businesses? The overall outlook is excellent as the one-year anniversary of state legalization approaches. Yes, challenges remain as local governments continue to grapple with what they will allow; however, the economic impact cannot be denied: There’s no doubt there are great financial gains to be had throughout the valley as we go green.

Robin Goins is a business consultant for DR.G Consulting and works extensively in the cannabis industry in the Coachella Valley. For more information, visit www.drrobingoins.com.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

Palm Desert was incorporated as a city just 45 years ago—on Nov. 26, 1973, making it the second-youngest city in the Coachella Valley.

This November, Palm Desert is poised to become the fourth valley city to approve and regulate cannabis-industry retail sales, commercial cultivation and delivery services within its city limits—presuming voters approve the resolution put on this year’s ballot by the current City Council.

Also on the November ballot: Palm Desert voters will choose among five candidates—two incumbents and three challengers—for two seats up for election on the City Council.

The Independent recently spoke with four of five candidates. (Matt Monica, who identifies himself as a retired educator on the city’s candidate-information form, did not respond to the Independent.)

Incumbent Jan Harnik is winding up a busy year of political campaigning. Earlier this year, she ran unsuccessfully for the local Riverside County Board of Supervisors seat. After losing to V. Manuel Perez, Harnik immediately dove into her re-election campaign.

“It’s been exhausting,” said Harnik, who has served on the Palm Desert council since 2010. “But if we pay attention to the lessons, we have an opportunity to learn through these processes. It was pretty valuable in a lot of ways for me.”

Why did she decide to again run for the Palm Desert City Council?

“I’ll share with you that I’m an accidental politician,” Harnik said. “But I’ve found a great passion in doing this work, and in making a difference in our community. In 2013, I pushed for a strategic plan for our city that took over a year to complete. More than 100 community members volunteered to help us create this great plan, and now we have work to do.”

Sabby Jonathan, who is completing his fourth year on the council and this year is serving as mayor, spoke similarly of not wanting to leave work undone.

“I’ve been a resident in Palm Desert for almost 40 years, and I’ve been involved in our community during that time. Currently, my involvement is serving on council,” Jonathan said. “Right now, we’re dealing with creating good things rather than putting out fires. So one of the driving forces that caused me to seek re-election is that we have adopted a vision of what the city will look like in the next 20 years. It’s our strategic plan, which is now embedded in our general plan. We are now in the early stages of implementation, and so I feel that there is unfinished work.”

Challenger Carlos Pineda described his work experience as being in the legal field and working as a medical assistant, attending to Alzheimer’s and elderly patients. “Since January 2017, I’ve been active in attending City Council meetings in each of our Coachella Valley cities to address different issues that affect my communities,” he said. “My frustration stems from the fact that, since day one, when the new (federal) administration took over, we’ve been under attack. I’m a Latino person. I’m an immigrant, and I’m also a member of the LGBTQ community, and when we bring up issues (important to us) with the councils, they’re not listening to us.”

The other challenger is Kenneth Doran. A resident of Palm Desert for 15 years, he is retired.

“My background is in economic development (where he worked for eight years for local government agencies), and I have a master’s degree in public administration, so this is not new to me,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for a very long time, and therefore I think I can bring something.”

We asked each candidate what they felt are the priority issues facing Palm Desert.

“Economic development is one,” Pineda said. “I feel that Palm Desert has come to stagnation. They (the City Council) aren’t doing enough development. As far as the city’s support for businesses within Palm Desert, (the City Council) always focuses on the El Paseo area, but there are a lot of empty stores in the Westfield Mall, and this is affecting jobs. I understand that right now, Sears is having talks about when, and if, they will be leaving that location within the next year. That’s a big concern, because if we start losing more of the big stores, who’s going to want to go to the mall? The foot traffic will suffer. What these businesses are doing is moving to other cities where rents are more affordable, and the traffic is better so they can generate more sales.”

Pineda continued: “Another key point is affordable housing. According to the City Council, Palm Desert is the only city that has a resolution in place that says for every five acres of development, 20 percent of that space has to be allocated for affordable housing. However, it doesn’t mean that (developers) have to build it. So, they (the City Council) are bypassing their own policy. In some instances, they have accepted fees in lieu of (enforcing) the building of affordable housing. That’s a big problem for me, and it’s a big problem for the community.”

Pineda also took the current City Council to task over homelessness: “In the city of Palm Desert, they seem to not want to accept that there are homeless people. But there is a homeless population here, and I feel that Palm Desert should be a lot more active in addressing this problem in our own city. Their response to me has been, ‘Well, the best thing we continue to do is work in a coalition with (the Coachella Valley Association of Governments) and its committee (on homelessness).’ But in my opinion, each city needs to actively start doing something like they have in Palm Springs.”

Jonathan certainly sees the homelessness issue from another perspective.

“I chair the Coachella Valley Association of Governments homelessness committee,” he said. “We’ve implemented a regional holistic approach, and we’ve just received the first yearly report. It’s an evaluation of our first full year, and it is incredibly encouraging. It shows an 80 percent success rate.”

What does that “success rate” mean?

“We engage the services of HARC (Health Assessment and Research for Communities, a Palm Desert nonprofit) to conduct a third-party, objective, data-driven evaluation of the program. One of the measures was to track those who entered and exited the program to see how many have been taken out of homelessness and put into permanent housing, along with wrap-around services. The results stated that it was about eight out of 10. … It is very much a regional and holistic approach, and I’m encouraged by that success.”

Other issues that Jonathan said were priorities included the implementation of the aforementioned strategic plan, and handling the escalating cost of public-safety services.

“That cost is increasing annually at an unsustainable rate, and we’re dealing with it,” he said. “I think it’s important that we continue to address that issue to find a solution.”

Doran and Harnik both put economic development at the top of their lists.

“I want to focus on redeveloping the Highway 111 corridor,” Doran said. “What we have right now is from back in the ’50s, and it’s obsolete. It’s not fitting the traffic that we have now, so I’d like to revitalize that. Also, in terms of economic development, for the past 21 years, we’ve been trying to get a hotel over at Desert Willow (near Cook Street and Country Club Drive). We have hotel pads over there waiting for a hotel to be built. I want to see what kind of incentives we’re offering hotel developers now, and see what can be done to bring someone in there.”

Harnik said: “We recognize that tourism is the (economic) backbone of our community, and we also recognize it is absolutely necessary that we broaden our economic base. Every time we hit a downturn in the economy, we get that message, and we’re doing something about it now. We are really investing in the Cal State University, San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus, and offering relevant education. This will have an impact regionally, and not just on Palm Desert.”

Harnik touted the council’s commitment to a digital iHub in Palm Desert.

“We’re collaborating with CSUSB and the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, and I’m fortunate right now to be the chair of the executive committee at CVEP. We three are collaborating on this digital iHub, and we are bringing over the cybersecurity-study program from CSUSB to be part of our headquarters. We found a building right near the CSUSB Palm Desert campus, and they are going to have some of their (administrative functions) in there as well as the cybersecurity program. There are almost 400,000 unfilled jobs in cybersecurity in this nation, and they’re high-paying, clean-energy jobs. This is a tremendous opportunity for our community and for the region at large.

“When a job goes away due to technology, there are many more jobs created because of that technology,” Harnik said. “So this is an opportunity for somebody in their 40s or 50s to go into a new career. We’re focusing on Palm Desert and the digital iHub, because we have the bandwidth through CENIC (the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California). It’s the only bandwidth (of this magnitude) in the valley today. With this strong bandwidth, as well as our lower cost of living when compared to San Francisco or Los Angeles, we have an excellent opportunity to attract good and different types of businesses here.”

Doran said he’d focus on “community-building” and fixing what he sees as a lack of ethics in the city’s business dealings.

“Would you give a $130,000-a-year position as marketing manager to somebody who does not have a college degree and has no experience in marketing?” he said. “Several years ago, that happened (in Palm Desert). There is a city ordinance governing how persons should be selected for positions in the city administration, and it’s done that way to be respectful to the resident taxpayers. And when it’s not done the right way, to me, it’s a slap in the face to those residents. … If I see things like that happening, I won’t just vote “no,” but I’ll let the citizens know what’s happening.”

All four candidates agreed that voters should pass the cannabis business taxation and regulation resolution on this November’s ballot.

“(The City Council) adopted that resolution that permits adult use of recreational cannabis pursuant to the state’s Prop 64,” Jonathan said. “We were very careful in drafting our ordinance to make sure that we limit the number of cannabis businesses in our city, the types of those businesses, the distances between each other, the distance from schools and so forth. The idea was to step into this new industry very carefully, and that’s what we’ve accomplished.

“We’ve approved 11 permits, and (those businesses) are all in some stage of development at this point. Six of those permits are for dispensaries. The other five are for cannabis manufacturing.”

Harnik added: “When we make a move like this in Palm Desert, we always engage the stakeholders. We had a lot of input from the cannabis industry, including growers, sellers, etc., and we’ve looked at what other cities have done. We’re being far more conservative in the cannabis business than some other cities in our valley, and we feel that going slow and measured is the better way. We’re looking to see how this market shakes out. We do not want to create a situation where all of our really valuable plumbing businesses, tile, decor and construction businesses in the north end near Interstate 10 have their landlords saying, ‘We can make more money if we have somebody growing cannabis in there.’”

Pineda gave the current City Council credit for being “progressive” regarding cannabis businesses.

“There are actually several cities in the valley that are refusing to allow this industry to come in,” he said. “But (the City Council) is estimating that if this resolution passes, it will result in up to $3 million in additional annual tax revenue for the city. That’s not a bad thing if they allocate these new funds to actual projects that are needed. For instance, one could be dealing with retirement-benefit liabilities (for city workers), where they have only $5 million in reserve, and that doesn’t seem to be enough. Or maybe some of this money could go to the police department costs. But it seems that (the council members) are afraid of a major national economic crisis, and I feel that we have to be proactively thinking of what we can do to make sure that Palm Desert doesn’t suffer too much.”

Doran said he supports the new state cannabis law.

“I can assure you that as California goes, so goes the rest of the nation,” Doran said. “Still, our law-enforcement services are having a very negative impact on the city’s financial situation. Those costs are rising tremendously, and it’s not sustainable. So we’re going to have to address that issue, and I think, in my humble opinion, (the current City Council) is trying to make marijuana taxation the solution to all their problems.”

When asked if Palm Desert’s proposed tax rate was potentially too high, Doran said it was.

“That wouldn’t surprise me one bit,” he said. “But let the citizens vote. Honestly, what I think is ultimately going to happen is that the marijuana industry will become more wealthy and more powerful, and they’ll get lobbyists and then start whipping the system, just like everybody else has. When they do, we’ll see laws change, and taxation limits will be introduced. But right now, it’s a new industry, and the city is looking at it as the savior for all its problems.”

Published in Politics

The final few weeks of this year’s session of the California State Legislature are here—and the fates of some important cannabis-related bills hang in the balance.

There are 17 cannabis-related bills, in fact, which must be decided on by the Aug. 31 adjournment, covering everything from after-school program funding to the veterinary use of cannabis. As this new industry continues to evolve, it’s important to pay attention—and speak up to ensure lawmakers in Sacramento know what the people of California think.

Here’s a list of those bills, and where they stand as of this posting on Aug. 14. Click the links to each bill to go to the Legislature’s website for up-to-date information.

AB 1744: This bill would mandate that cannabis-tax revenues be used to fund after-school education and safety programs—specifically programs that encourage healthy choices and improve school retention.

This bill is currently in the hands of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It should be a no-brainer; it passed the Assembly 73-0 and has sailed through two Senate committees so far.

AB 1793: This is a social justice bill, requiring the California Department of Justice to review all convictions that are potentially eligible for resentencing under the Adult Use of Marijuana Act of 2016 and Proposition 64.

This bill would go a long way toward addressing the historical use of marijuana convictions to punish communities of color, although it is a far cry from general amnesty. This bill passed the Assembly in a 43-28 vote and is also in the hands of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Legislators should show the wisdom and compassion to address these historic wrongs.

AB 1863: This would personal income-tax deductions for licensed cannabis businesses. It, too, is waiting for a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee after passing the Assembly in a 64-11 vote.

“Canna-preneurs” should have the same tax advantages as any other business owner. This is particularly important for small business owners.

AB 1996: This would create a cannabis research program here in California.

Using cannabis taxes to study cannabis seems perfectly reasonable—especially considering federal prohibition has created a vacuum of research. Without a thorough understanding of cannabis, how can we make informed decisions around its usage?

It is currently making its way through the Senate after a 73-0 vote in the Assembly.

AB 2020 and AB 2641: The former bill would authorize temporary event licenses, while the latter would allow for onsite sales at those events. Both easily passed through the Assembly and are in the hands of the Senate.

Last April, High Times magazine’s Cannabis Cup event in San Bernardino was denied permits for sales … meaning the nation’s largest cannabis convention was held without any cannabis. These bills will hopefully eliminate this sort of snafu in the future.

AB 2215: This bill is a bit confusing. The California Veterinary Medical Board currently does not allow doctors to discuss or prescribe cannabis—and can revoke their license for doing so.

The good news: This bill would prohibit the board from punishing vets for discussing cannabis. The band news: It would still be illegal for veterinarians to prescribe cannabis for pets, while the Veterinary Medical Board comes up with guidelines.

This bill passed the Assembly, 60-10, and is working its way through the Senate

AB 2255: This proposed law would prohibit licensed distributors from transporting amounts of cannabis that exceed the amount on the shipping manifest. It unanimously passed in the Assembly and is expected to easily pass in the Senate.

AB 2402: The bill would prohibit marijuana businesses from sharing your personal information without your consent—and would prohibit them from denying you service for withholding consent. It passed the Assembly unanimously and is working its way through the Senate.

AB 2555: This is a “cleanup” bill that would create definitions for terms in state marijuana codes, including “immature cannabis plant,” “mature cannabis plant” and “plant.” It’s in the Senate’s hands after unanimously passing in the Assembly.

AB 2899: This is also a “cleanup” bill that would prohibit businesses with suspended licenses from advertising. It, too, passed unanimously in the Assembly and is working its way through the Senate.

AB 2914: I have mixed feelings about this one. It prohibits cannabis licensees from producing or selling alcoholic beverages containing cannabis, and would stop alcoholic-beverage licensees from selling or providing cannabis products.

I have had wine with cannabis in it … and let’s just say a little goes a long way. This bill may prevent lots of Californians from getting the spins … but does seem a bit “nanny state.”

It passed through the Assembly unanimously and is working its way through the Senate.

AB 2980: This would allow two or more licensed marijuana business to share common-use areas. Office and warehouse space is expensive, especially for small businesses, as long as they are complying with the law, why should they be treated differently from any other businesses?

It passed the Assembly in a 48-21 vote and is in the Senate’s hands.

AB 924: This would create the Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement Act for Tribal Entities, forming a process through which the state can interact with sovereign tribes that are producing cannabis products.

It unanimously passed through the Assembly and is awaiting word from the Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB 1459: This would allow county agricultural commissioners to include cannabis in its reporting process to the State Secretary of Food and Agriculture.

It unanimously passed through the Senate and is working its way through the Assembly.

SB 829: This bill would establish compassionate-care licenses for donors of medical use cannabis products to patients who are in need.

It was passed unanimously by the Senate and is now working its way through the Assembly.

SB 930: This is probably the piece of legislation that would do the most to reform the cannabis industry, making things better for the legal market and negatively impacting the illegal market.

This bill would create a state-sponsored credit union for licensed marijuana businesses to use. Because of federal prohibition, cannabis businesses can’t use the banking system, meaning most cannabis business deal with vast amounts of cash, making them vulnerable to crime. I have heard of bud-tenders being paid with stacks of $5 bills, landlords receiving thousands of dollars of rent in cash, and so on.

It passed the Senate on a 32-6 vote and is working its way through the Assembly.

It’s great to see so much work being done in Sacramento to reform and strengthen California’s cannabis industry. However, it’s disappointing that not one of these 17 bills was introduced by a Coachella Valley legislator. Considering the blooming importance of cannabis to our economy, it’s disappointing that these state legislators seem indifferent to the needs of their constituents.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

On July 13, California’s three state cannabis-licensing authorities—the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the California Department of Public Health—announced the publication of proposed “non-emergency” regulations that would replace the rules under which the state’s marijuana industry has been operating.

Voters passed Proposition 64 in November 2016, legalizing the sale and use of recreational cannabis in California as of Jan. 1, 2018—meaning there was only a little more than a year to create an entire state agency, licensing guidelines and regulatory processes.

Given the size of this task—and the size of this state—it’s no surprise that California has gotten off to a bumpy start. High taxes, both on the state and local level, are a major problem. In Washington, Oregon and Colorado, marijuana consumers saw a drop in the price of cannabis for the recreational user as soon as the supply chain was able to catch up to demand—so much so, in fact, that the black and gray markets were largely put out of business.

In California, this has not been the case. Because of both the incredibly high taxes on legal weed and the big production costs California’s state regulations have created, legal marijuana has remained expensive—so the illegal cannabis market has been able to maintain lower prices and, therefore, flourish. Non-licensed retailers have also thrived, providing customers with much lower prices than the licensed competition. (In some parts of the state, I have heard of regulators not realizing that a shop is unlicensed until they asked to see permits.) On the Bureau of Cannabis Control’s own Facebook page, the day the new regulations were announced, people were bragging and/or complaining that they have returned to the black market. 

Medical-marijuana patients are also suffering under these taxes, and many have had to return to the illegal market in order afford the medicine they need to control their very serious medical issues. Small growers who have been in the cannabis industry for decades have suffered and been driven out of business because of the onerous regulations placed on them—and as of July 1, a number of dispensaries were stuck with inventory that was all of a sudden illegal for them to sell, because it did not meet state standards.

Thankfully, it seems like Lori Ajax, the chief of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), recognizes that there have been problems, and she seems to be interested in fixing them. The proposed regulations, which can be viewed here, are now open to a 45-day public-comment period. State law stipulates that the non-emergency regulations must be in place by the end of the year.

I find some portions of the new regulations to be very encouraging. I am still in the process of digesting the information that the BCC wants to be able to award research funding. One of my biggest beefs with the medical-cannabis industry is its promotion of cannabis as a cure-all for many ailments, when there are so few peer-reviewed studies regarding the medical benefits of marijuana. This is not necessarily the industry’s fault—federal law has essentially prohibited the use of marijuana for all purposes, including scientific ones—so the state’s possible foray into scientific research funding is a step in the right direction.

The new regulations also get rid of the necessity for establishments to have two sets of licenses; as of now, dispensaries need one for medical marijuana, and one for recreational adult use. With only a few differences in the requirements, it seems unnecessary to require businesses to apply for two types of licenses to sell the same product.

I also find the proposed codification of enforcement to be encouraging. Under the emergency regulations, there was no significant list of grounds for disciplinary action, meaning each licensing authority had the ability to discipline on a case-by-case basis—a system that is open to abuses. The proposed regulations will create a framework for licensing authorities to use when initiating or undertaking enforcement.

Unfortunately, the BCC is proposing to keep in place its requirements around packaging. Retailers would still not be able to package product onsite, and would still be required to place cannabis products in a resealable child-resistant opaque package before customers leave the store. This requirement has always seemed rather ridiculous: If the goal is to protect children, why do we not see these same sorts of requirements around tobacco and liquor? Given California’s push for a greener future, adding a new type of plastic waste feels counterproductive.

While I believe the Legislature still needs to step in to make some legal changes to ensure California’s cannabis industry—particularly small and minority-owned businesses—can thrive, these new regulations are a start.

Any interested party is encouraged to participate in the public-comment process—although consider yourself warned that reading through the proposed rule changes is not an easy process. (The Initial Statement of Reasons from the BCC is 567 pages long!) Comments on the proposed regulations are being accepted in both writing (via email or snail mail) and at public hearings throughout the state, comments cannot be made by phone. The closest hearings will be held in Los Angeles and Riverside (find a list here), so written comments may be a Coachella Valley resident’s best bet. Regarding BCC regulations, comments can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; in the subject line, type in the subject of the proposed regulation to which the comments apply. You can make your comment either in the body of the email or as an attached document. Physical mail can be sent to: Lori Ajax, Chief, Bureau of Cannabis Control, P.O. Box 419106, Rancho Cordova, CA, 95741. All information submitted becomes public information—so don’t include anything you want to remain confidential.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

The passage of Proposition 64 not only decriminalized the adult use of marijuana; the Adult Use of Marijuana Act created a path for people to have prior pot convictions reduced—or entirely cleared from their records.

The legislation specifies that people can initiate this process on their own, but in some counties—most notably San Francisco and San Diego—district attorneys have taken it upon themselves to review cases and reduce or dismiss convictions.

Those who oppose relief from prior convictions often say that since a crime was committed—marijuana was illegal then, after all—people need to face the consequences. But this same argument did not hold water for alcohol Prohibition—and should people continue to pay for a crime that was the result of misguided government policies?

This is a social-justice issue—one that all of us who care about our democracy should pay attention to. Why? People of color were much more likely to be arrested and convicted under the old laws. In fact, recent studies have shown that although whites and people of color use marijuana at about the same rate, black people are almost four times as likely, and Latinos two to three times as likely, to have faced arrest—even for possession of a small amount of marijuana. An old pot conviction can negatively impact a person’s ability to vote, get a job, rent an apartment and get student loans—and it can affect child-custody and immigration decisions. Therefore, it is particularly important for the government to ensure everyone is treated fairly under the law.

Prop 64 makes it clear that not everyone is eligible for conviction reductions or dismissals: The law specifies that this relief is reserved for those with relatively low-level offenses. A person with a history of violence, multiple convictions or convictions for selling to minors is not eligible to have his or her records expunged or reduced. In other words, hard-core drug dealers and people working for drug cartels are unlikely to somehow be set free.

Here’s hoping that other district attorneys around the state choose to follow the lead of San Diego and San Francisco counties and review old convictions—because it can be expensive and intimidating for people to initiate the process on their own. If someone can’t get a job or student loans because of a past marijuana conviction, it’s unlikely that person can afford a lawyer. The Drug Policy Alliance and other organizations are hosting free expungement clinics, where lawyers and paralegals are present to help, but they tend to happen in and around larger cities—with none planned here in the Coachella Valley that I could find. (If you know of any, please let us know.) That means someone from here would need to drive into Los Angeles on the chance they might get to speak to a lawyer about possibly having an old conviction reduced. Also: This is not the most well-known piece of the law, and the government is unlikely to publicize this information—so spread the word.

San Diego has already reduced the records of more than 700 people, and has identified more than 4,000 people who may be able to access this relief—yet Riverside County so far has reminded silent. Although a great number of people in the county have applied to have their records reduced or cleared, as of this writing, the office of District Attorney Mike Hestrin has made no public comment, nor did anyone from the office respond to my inquiries about plans to relive this burden. As a community that prides itself on progressive values, it’s incumbent upon us to put pressure on our local elected officials.

Legislative help may be on the way: Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a Democrat from Alameda, introduced Assembly Bill 1793 in January to “to allow automatic expungement or reduction of a prior cannabis conviction,” but the legislative process is a slow one. The bill went through its first reading in early January, and there has been no movement since. One possible reason for inaction: The Legislature would also need to provide financial resources to assist the counties in doing this work.

Real people continue to be harmed by old laws that the voters of the state of California have thrown out. Old felony convictions that today would be, at worst, misdemeanors—and possibly not even worthy of arrest—are keeping a disproportionate number of African Americans and Mexican Americans from fully participating in our democracy. After all, a right delayed is a right denied.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

On Jan. 1, weed aficionados in California were finally able to do what they say they’ve always wanted—legally buy marijuana, no prescription required.

But small farmers who had been selling on the black market were not uniformly delighted by the change.

For decades, the illegal-weed industry has been lucrative. Then came increasing legalization that created its own boom: In the United States, the total medical and recreational market for pot is expected to hit $2.6 billion in revenue this year, reports the Financial Times. Nine states have now legalized recreational sales, and 29 states have legalized medical marijuana. Colorado alone recorded nearly $4.5 billion in sales since recreational stores opened on Jan 1, 2014.

But many small farmers in California worry about this new world of legal pot. They’ve been the backbone of the industry through the drug-war years of heavy enforcement and heavy penalties, and they know all too well what it’s like to live as outlaws. They now fear that big agriculture will take over the industry that some of them pioneered and worked in for generations.

Under Proposition 64, also called the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, after Jan. 1, 2023, there will be no state cap in California on the size or production amount of marijuana farms. David Bienenstock, former editor of High Times Magazine, fears this lack of a size limit invites consolidation by corporations with deep pockets. What he’d much rather see are “as many small, sustainable, eco-friendly farms as possible.”

Right now, there are an estimated 50,000 cannabis farms in the state of California. These farms are run by everything from multi-generation families who have worked the same land for decades, to recently formed groups of tech-industry dropouts. It’s no secret that people have flocked to the California hills over the last decade to join what is being called the new California “green rush.”

The black market has allowed growers to earn an exorbitant amount of tax-free wages without ever having to build a business profile or work within legal systems. For many, one of the major draws of the marijuana-farming lifestyle has always been its freedom from government oversight and pesky regulations. But going legal now means paying licensing fees and taxes and wading through paperwork—just like any other businessperson.

Jonathan Collier, a director of the California Growers Association, lives in Nevada County, home to more than 4,000 marijuana farms. He’s lobbied hard to get black-market growers in his area to come out of the shadows and capitalize on being legal. He tells small pot farmers that they can do well if they decide to “position themselves in the artisanal market, establishing branding and higher-quality processes.”

But Collier said many successful marijuana farmers don’t want to go legal, because they’ve got “millionaire blinders.” Rather than accept a reasonable income as a legal pot farmer, some want to stay in the background and just keep doing what they’re doing, under cover.

Many of the newly legal growers have joined cooperatives to help process and market their marijuana. The distribution cooperative Alegria, based in Nevada City, north of Sacramento, helps farmers bring their individualized product to consumers. Executive director Michelle Carroll makes this analogy: “People will pay more for craft beer. We go to farmers’ markets in San Francisco twice a month, and we get to deal face-to-face with the consumers (who) want the best product.”

Alegria, which has strict policies against the use of pesticides, has assembled a group of growers who sell direct to a distributor, who then focuses on branding and sales. This allows farmers to concentrate on quality control. “We feel like if we all work together, we will get to a better place,” Carroll said.

“Durban poison,” “strawberry cough” and “super silver haze”—these are a few of the names buyers will find at dispensaries these days. At the moment, organic and inorganic marijuana seem fairly similar in quality. In some dispensaries, organic marijuana is sold for an even lower price than its inorganic counterpart. Most consumers I’ve talked to say they’re interested in smoking designer, high-end strains; they don’t particularly care about sourcing and growing practices. But this may change as big agriculture starts to move into the business.

As more states legalize the weed industry, and corporate consolidation changes the market, only knowledgeable consumers will be able to keep small, boutique farms alive. That means the once-illegal folks on heritage farms have the chance to change the future of cannabis—if they can step out of the black-market they grew up in.

Desdemona Dallas is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. A writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y., she learned about the cannabis industry while living in Nevada City, Calif.

Published in Community Voices

So with legal recreational marijuana just around the corner, you want to buy a joint … but the last time you bought “the pot,” you were at the crossroads of pimples and AP algebra.

Well, medical marijuana, legal weed and even your old-fashioned pot dealer have all matured since then to compete in an ever-growing market.

Over the last few years, marijuana has become specialized, and pot heads have become cannabis connoisseurs, as exacting as any oenophile. Three basic words—indica, sativa and hybrid—make up the lexicon of the aficionado, with growers creating specialized varietals that vary in strength, taste and affect to satisfy demanding customers.

Let’s explore the difference between the strains—keeping in mind that within each classification, there are hundreds of sub-strains with their own flavor profiles, effects and fans. We have seen these classifications around for a long time, but in the last few years, users have started coming out of their basements and enjoying their herb casually in social situations—in much the same way they enjoy a fine wine or hand-crafted cocktail. Also, remember that your own life experiences and body chemistry will inform the way any strain affects you.

Sativa strains are believed to have originated in temperate growing regions between the equator and the 30th parallel (around the top of the Gulf of Mexico); they grow tall and have a thin leaf. If you are looking to grow your own plants outdoors here in the desert, these are the ones for you.  

Sativas tend to make the user feel more energetic, creative and happy. Going out with friends for the evening, embarking on a hike or taking a painting class? Sativa is the way to go. From personal experience, I can tell you this is what I prefer when I sit down to write during the day or want to be out and about with people. One of my favorite sativa strains is Tangilope, a super-tasty, citrusy strain that really helps me with creativity. But remember: It is always a good idea to test out any new strain in a small amount before making a commitment.

Indicas, on the other hand, originated further north, probably in the area around Afganistan. The plants tend to be short and bushy with a relatively short maturation time. If you are looking to grow inside your home, you will probably want to look for one of these.

Indicas tend to be more relaxing and act as a sedative for their users, while at the same time making a person feel somewhat social. Planning an evening of Netflix and chill? Have a lot on your mind and need to spend some time processing? Or are you planning a quiet evening at home with friends? If so, indicas are a great choice—but they do tend to make you hungry or sleepy, and they just may fuse your tush to the couch. I am fond of the Grape Ape strain of indica; I find its grapey smell and flavor really tasty. If I have had a tough day and just need to relax, I will often reach for some Grape Ape—not too much, though, or I may not move for the rest of the night.

As the name implies, hybrids are cross-bred plants with both indica and sativa genetics. Growers do this for a variety of reasons, including yield and growing time. Of course, they also want to produce plants with the benefits of both parent strains, and they are experimenting with hybrids that will create very specific effects. A grower may, for instance, breed some indica into a sativa to make it better-suited for an indoor grow operation, or decrease some of the associated paranoia; perhaps they’ll add some sativa to an indica to help the consumer stay awake.

Hybrids tend to be broken down into either sativa- or indica-dominant verities. (Truth be told, most strains these days have at least some hybridization in their ancestry.) Depending on what strain you choose, you will find a wide range of differences in both effect and flavor. One of my favorite hybrid strains is the sativa-dominant Blue Dream, a fairly mellow strain that will help you relax while still giving you the creative effects of many sativas. Blue Dream’s ancestry involves the indica Blueberry strain, which carries through to give you a lovely berry flavor.

With so many strains to choose from, it is important to both experiment and get guidance while you are discovering your favorites. Always talk to your friendly neighborhood budtender, as they are sure to keep abreast of the latest and greatest. When figuring out what strains work well for you, consider keeping a notebook with your favorites and how they each make you feel.

Whatever strain you choose … enjoy!

Published in Cannabis in the CV

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