Cannabis industry veteran Steve DeAngelo recently wrote an opinion piece, entitled “Topple the Pyramids,” in which he addresses the shift from medical to adult-use sales in California, and how small, legacy cannabis businesses struggle in comparison to corporate cannabis ownership.
DeAngelo began his piece by looking back on the medical cannabis law in California prior to the shift toward adult-use sales. “Nobody got rich. Nobody made intergenerational wealth, but everybody was taken care of,” he said of the past. “The system worked in its basic purpose of providing high quality cannabis at affordable prices, and providing all of its participants with an adequate income and dignified lifestyle—so it grew, steadily gaining more and more in-state market share from the underground market.”
After adult-use cannabis went live on Jan. 1, 2018 in California, he found that only 10 of the 500 suppliers to DeAngelo’s cannabis business at the time, Harborside, had received state licenses. Shortly afterward, prices at Harborside increased, which sent consumers “right into the arms of all the growers who had not been licensed.” He explained that this change has affected California’s cannabis industry long term, citing sales attributed to tourists or people who have enough money not to care about the price tag.
He also spoke about the people who helped build up the cannabis industry, who have been cast out by corporate companies. “Almost everywhere I go, I find that my counterculture cannabis tribe, the people who love this plant the most, and sacrificed the most to make her legal, have been mostly purged from legal companies, and many of them have entirely lost their livelihoods,” he said, adding that this mentality has spread from California to Massachusetts and Illinois.
According to DeAngelo, only 20% of product from licensed producers has been sold in Canada since 2018, and the other 80% was either too low of quality to be sold, and was either destroyed or stored in a warehouse.
DeAngelo imagines an alternate approach to regulating cannabis, in the forms of limited square foot canopy, awarding licenses without taxation, growing high-quality, small batch cannabis instead of mass produced flower, or allowing an “Etsy for weed” to solve problems related to the current scale of cannabis sales. He explains his suggestions as a way to cultivate organic growth of the industry.
He ended his statement by pitching hope for the future. “We don’t have to accept the status quo. We can move away from the boom and bust cycle that has been so destructive for so many companies and so many markets, and restore the excitement and optimism that we saw in the early days of legal cannabis. The brightest of futures is still possible if we have the courage to think outside the Pyramid.”
The same sentiments about supporting small scale growers can also be found in the recently filed bill proposal from Rep. Jared Huffman and Rep. Earl Blumenauer. “As policies change, we cannot leave our smallest family-farmers behind. With my bill, these small businesses can have the chance to compete and succeed in a fully legalized cannabis market,” Huffman wrote on Twitter on Sept. 14. Called the “Small and Homestead Independent Producers Act,” his bill would help smaller cannabis cultivators compete with corporations by shipping their products over state lines.
Only a few weeks ago, the National Craft Cannabis Coalition was founded to help protect small growers in California, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts.
Earlier this year in April, Assembly Bill 2691 was introduced to allow cannabis farmers markets (although the conversation ended in late May). High quality cannabis products are being featured in similar events such as the Mendocino Craft Farmers Auction, which was held in May.