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California Lawmakers Are Pushing Back Against Legalization Regulations That Favor Big Weed

Without caps on cultivation acreage, cannabis advocates and legislators are worried that California’s small family farms will be swept out of the industry by deep-pocketed corporate grows.

by Zach Harris

California is less than a month away from finally welcoming comprehensive cannabis legalization, with adult use going into effect at the strike of midnight on January 1st. But while Californians up and down the coast will spend New Year's Day lighting up in celebration, the state's recently-released emergency regulations, which will govern the impending industry starting next month, already have a number of small cannabis farmers biting their nails.

Growers are worried that lax protections and new corporate players with deep-pockets will quickly push them out of the soon-to-be mainstream industry, prompting at least two Golden State legislators to call for preemptive protections for the veteran cannabis community.

Since the day California legislators released the emergency regulations last month, canna-businesses from Los Angeles to the Emerald Triangle have voiced displeasure with the lack of an acreage cap for licensed cultivators. The oversight could feasibly open the doors for well-funded green rushers to set up massive grow operations that could easily undercut the mom-and-pop market that's been the crux of California's cannabis industry for decades.

"It's clear the governing body is taking the regulation part of things very seriously, as they should be," Michael Katz, co-founder of the Emerald Exchange, told MERRY JANE last month. "But it would be nice if there were a little more transitional support for members of the community, without whom this conversation wouldn't be as advanced as it is."

Katz added that legalization wouldn't be on the precipice at all if not for the farmers and activists. "They're the ones responsible for this opportunity coming to light, and they're being left behind and steamrolled" by the emergency regulations.

Now, with the start of recreational licensing less than 30 days away, the Los Angeles Times reports that two California lawmakers, State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-San Rafael) and Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), are standing up for the state's independent canna-businesses. The officials submitted a written complaint to Richard Parrott, director of the Food and Agriculture Department's CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Division, requesting to cap cultivation licenses at one acre a piece.

"We support the protection of small family cannabis farmers — the backbone of California's cannabis industry — and are deeply concerned that a lack of a cap on small cannabis cultivation permits is undermining the desires of California voters expressed through Proposition 64," the legislators wrote.

Under the current regulations, local municipalities can add their own cultivation restrictions, but with taxes collected based on size and production volume, towns and cities that choose to welcome cannabis are also incentivized to welcome as much profit as possible.

"Local governments can really restrict acreage, licenses, and license-types within their own communities," Cara Martinson, senior legislative representative with the California State Association of Counties, told Sacramento's Capital Public Radio. "But by lifting the cap statewide it essentially erodes the playing field."

McGuire and Wood were quick to note that huge portions of Northern California's cannabis community are family-owned businesses that have been operating for several generations.

"This last minute revision rolls out the red carpet for large corporations to crush the livelihood of small family farmers who should be given a fair chance to succeed in a regulated market," the lawmakers wrote.

According to Capital Public Radio, Director Parrott did not include a cap in the emergency regulations because it wasn't legally obligatory. "At the end of the day we had to look at what the law requires of us, and it didn't require that of us," he reportedly said.

Parrott has not yet responded to McGuire and Wood or any other California cannabis advocate's request for a cultivation acreage cap. 

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Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.



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