There’s a mass cannabis exodus out of California, and, no, that’s not a reference to the Bob Marley song, although you should snag Marley Natural while they’re still in the golden state, Cali friends. However, another stoner icon legacy brand, that of San Francisco-born Jerry Garcia, the late co-founder and lead vocalist for The Grateful Dead, Garcia Hand Picked cannabis line, is saying goodbye to the Golden State, SFGate reports. Cue up “Fire on the Mountain,” although climate change isn’t California’s only problem.
While for decades, cannabis growers, entrepreneurs, and aficionados found a green paradise tucked away in the libertarian Emerald Triangle (a region in Northern California, including Humboldt County, named for being the largest cannabis-producing region in the United States) or the liberal counterculture of the cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, when California finally legalized, well, the Fed’s red tape and impossibly high barriers to entry left even the most recognized names in cannabis unable to turn a legal profit in the state.
“We’re taking a pause in California. We want to ensure CA consumers have the highest quality flower for the long term, so we are in the process of choosing a new local partner for cultivation, production, sales, and distribution of Garcia Hand Picked in CA,” a spokesperson from Holistic Industries, the brand’s parent company, wrote in an email to SFGate.
Previously, Garcia Hand Picked sourced its cannabis from legacy farmers in the Emerald Triangle, growers perhaps Garcia even once enjoyed, although now the brand is looking for a new supplier. Working with legacy farmers earned the brand valuable street cred (celebrity cannabis brands can have a rap for being corny, and many consumers prefer their weed without a famous face attached), but it wasn’t enough. Despite California’s reputation as the U.S.’s cornerstone for cannabis, to say it’s a tough market is an understatement. Trying to sell cannabis in California is an almost impossibly expensive operation due to complicated regulations, high taxes, and the plethora of troubles that come with banking. Due to Federal laws, cannabis companies do not have the same access to loans. And according to the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act, weed businesses pay an effective federal tax rate as high as 80%.
Recently, other celebrity cannabis brands faced similar woes. According to Celeb Stoner, in January, Jay-Z’s Monogram brand began restructuring by The Parent Company, and Canada’s Cronos Group made the call to kill Kristen Bell’s Happy Dance CBD skincare line to “reduce U.S. operating expenses.” According to Bloomberg, few celebrity cannabis brands have managed to turn a profit. In addition to the giant financial hurdles, as long as cannabis remains a Schedule I substance under Federal Law, there are vast marketing hurdles. For instance, radio advertising is illegal, even in states where cannabis is not. And, if celebrity cannabis brands that come pre-approved by a household name and cash behind them are failing, think of the barriers to entry smaller companies face, especially those owned by POC and anyone else affected by the War on Drugs.
While they pull out of California, Garcia Hand Picked is still available in five other states. However, the next time you smoke up in Cali while the Grateful Dead plays in the background, if you’re like many others, you’ll opt for the black market, just like Jerry himself smoked. Because as California’s mass cannabis extinction event demonstrates, sadly, state legalization is not the pipe dream (pun intended) so many of us hoped for.