The Emerald Mirror

(At least that’s how I remember it.)
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Part 1: The Myth of Bud Tender

Today, there is this strange romantic vision of Proposition 215. I think we all forgot what it was: a lie. Yes, we had a more open market, a better market. We also had cyclical raids, dispensary owners that would rob you, lower safety standards, and the same grift and corruption (maybe less visible) with city officials and law enforcement profiting robustly, the same as today.

I remember when Proposition 64 was being bound into law. The California Growers Association meetings in Los Angeles resembled a low rent organized crime peace deal negotiated inside of a comic book convention. A wiry blond man with a ponytail bounced around while a few other sleazeball types talked on a microphone. The ones within the association with any shred of character left, stood close to the stage, quietly watching with an occasional under the hand whisper to a compatriot. Those were the growers, the ones who hadn’t gotten far enough or enough out of the last five to however many years inside of prop 215. They had yet to build relationships with money or were partners in a dispensary that was always under duress. 

At those CGA meetings there were more men worried about missing the meal he was going to eat next month. Leftover players watching the game go by calling next. I had been out of the industry for 2 years, a lot had changed, and I had no skin in this game. So I observed without a hook.

There was a lot of talk of the canopy size, how it was measured, and most important, the limits. It was confusing and I don’t think I fully understood it until I had a chance to visit Salinas, California.

Salinas is an agricultural center nested in a dusty and overly polluted valley where a large percentage of edible agriculture and cut flowers are grown in the USA. One rather notorious and vocal actor in the Prop 215 days (let’s call him Bud Tender) had secured a large plot of halfway dead greenhouses prior to the rules being established on canopy types. Bud had been operating a popular retail location that had one of the widest selections of flower products and clones. I used to drive six hours from Los Angeles to Oakland to secure novel cuts from the surrounding Bay Area. Growers from the most northern tip and into Oregon would travel to the Bay sharing cuts and ‘donating’ flowers. The legacy of these genetics and flower are the reasons today the bay is still looked at as the Mecca within a wasteland for the best herb.

Bud had been optically playing the role of the white knight and he was looking to cash in while his influence was high. Tragically, his bet was too high and the regulations had added a canopy cap on the largest license type. The canopy size on the 60+ acre parcel was roughly 200,000 square ft. with the ability to scale it up. Well above the 4 acre outdoor cap. The canopy limitations were designed to insure that the small growers would have time to compete and navigate the new legal market. The canopy caps would also expire in 2023 and a new set of larger license types would be revealed. The mega license.

This would not work with Bud, who also had brought in a former city mayor as a stakeholder of this new larger operation. A loophole would need to be devised. That loophole was the stacking of 10,000 square ft. canopy license types onto one property. Imaginary lines were drawn into plans and resubmitted for each state license application. They were approved and issued.

One of the more inane aspects of Prop 64 was that you needed a local license first then a state license. Local licenses were far easier to obtain if you knew the right person or had the right amount of cash handy. Local regulations varied to practically nothing or to the most Orwellian depending on which municipality you were applying in and how much corruption was at play. Salinas, as many agricultural hubs are, is corrupt. A shell of its former self during the cut flower boom. A boom that became a recession once NAFTA and the WTO agreements were signed into action by George W. Bush—who was more a pen-mover than the architect; the architect was the Clinton administration. So cut flowers for big box brands moved from the California Central Valley to regions in South America, leaving decades-old greenhouses decaying like a fossil of the American Dream. That is until the new wave of speculators showed up, stacking licenses, averting the regulations, filling their new landlords with mountains of cash. The early runners in producing the oversaturated market of mostly low quality flower that has decimated the chances of any small business to compete.

Bud’s title over his farm did not last long. He took a 600k annual salary and brought on every family member he knew, creating an unqualified web of nepotism. More bridge loans were needed as the challenges of growing in a pesticide and bug-laden dust bowl grew. Cast out Bud moved on to other ventures, more crusades, leaving the Central Valley with parcels of stacked license holders growing mountains of mid-grade flower drowning the small farms from any chance to compete. This trend carried up and down the great and failed state of California and into every man and woman that believed that what they were going to get with Prop 64 was going to be better than Prop 215. Which was another lie.

This history lesson is important. As is the case study of Bud Tender. His path became the precedent for the current state and what was to be exported in either ideas or allegiances to other states as the fold of prohibition was opened. The last decade of chaos in the cannabis sector is also a great argument for a resetting of its direction. As Biden vainly provides clemency for low-level cannabis offenders and talks ‘rescheduling’ which in all respects is the most terrifying legalese that any current operator could hear, we desperately need to rethink the current state. Rescheduling cannabis could very likely hand it’s production and sale over to pharmaceutical companies or biotech who have the bankroll for FDA approval and entering in wider markets.

The same companies that made a mint over the last few years, while more small businesses shuttered their doors. They have their ambassadors, their Buds. The ones in between the worlds, pushing things in and over while pulling out all of the ones that took the initial risk. The downtrodden outlaws and exiles who had found a way to create something beautiful in spite of their philosophies, flaws, and sins. The ones still clinging to the rotting underbelly of the American Dream, confusing the flies with gold.

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