Capitol Rally to Bring Cannabis Tax Crisis to Doorstep of California Lawmakers

Organizers on how the #NODRUGWARV2 rally is being spearheaded by legacy farmers and BIPOC leaders in cannabis.
California Capitol building in Sacramento. Shutterstock.

A chorus of industry stakeholders and lawmakers representing “the two populations most harmed by the War on Drugs”—legacy farmers and BIPOC leaders—plan to descend upon the California Capitol steps in Sacramento, California on Thursday, January 13  for the #NODRUGWARV2 Rally and Press conference. The rally begins at 11 a.m. PST, and every local cannabis advocate who cares about the viability of the industry is invited.

The #NODRUGWARV2 Rally and Press Conference highlights two specific actions that the California State Legislature must take before its July 1, 2022 budget deadline: the repeal of the excise tax for equity retailers and the repeal of the cultivation tax for all growers across the state.

On January 1, California Department of Tax and Fee Administration’s tax hike on dry-weight flower took effect—ushering in the latest blow to cultivators. The rates rose by almost five percent, reaching over $161 per pound. Calling the current tax situation in California the “War on Drugs 2.0”—the idea is to bring a sense of urgency to the issue as farms fail and tax rates purge valuable industry members.

Rally speakers include, in order of appearance, Amber Senter, chairperson and executive director of Supernova Women; Assemblymember Mia Bonta (18th District); Genine Coleman of Origins Council;  Kika Keith of Gorilla RX Wellness; John Casali of Huckleberry Hills Farm; Chaney Turner of Oakland’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission; Raeven Duckett-Robinson of Community Gardens;  Casey O’Neill of HappyDay Farms; Henry Alston of James Henry SF; Sam De La Paz of the Hessel Farmers Grange; Malakai Amen of the California Urban Partnership; Karla Avila of Trinity County Agriculture Alliance; Carlton Williams of New Life CA; and Senator Steve Bradford (35th District). Senter will be the final speaker and conclude the day’s remarks.

On Monday, January 10, Governor Gavin Newsom released the 2022-2023 California state budget—promising that he and his Administration will address cannabis tax reform and better support the state’s small licensed operators who are fed up with oppressive tax rates. The leaders behind Supernova Women and Origins Council are among those beating the drum.

“It is very oppressive. Really—we’re in a crisis,” Amber E. Senter of Supernova Women, a nonprofit that works to empower Black and Brown people to become self-sufficient shareholders in the cannabis space, told High Times. “Cannabis sales are down. The whole economy is a bit soft. Folks just have been dealing with these onerous taxes since 2018 and folks are really beyond their breaking point. They no longer have the ability to continue under what we’ve been dealing with—particularly in the Bay Area as well as in LA. A lot of operators—especially social equity operators—are dealing with robberies and burglaries as a result of the economy and people desperate and making acts out of desperation. Folks are getting robbed, and they’re just not able to recover from what’s happening. We need some relief.”

“Not only has the State fallen short on its promise to right the wrongs inflicted upon minority communities by the War on Drugs,” Senter stated, “but it has also perpetuated regressive War on Drugs 2.0 policies through oppressive taxation, which has to end.”

Supernova Women was behind the November 29, 2021, Oakland City Hall Rally and Press Conference, with help from the Origins Council, a nonprofit organization that represents and advocates for cannabis businesses in California’s historic farming regions. There, they addressed the rash of robberies hitting cannabis businesses.

Legacy farmers are among those hit the hardest by the burden of the tax structure. “From a small legacy farmer perspective in a rural area, it’s absolutely urgent. These businesses are starting to fold,” Genine Coleman, executive director of the Origins Council, told High Times. “These farmers are starting to put their properties up for sale and move away. The prospective extinction event has begun and time is of the essence—particularly for farmers who have to evaluate if they’re going to farm this year. It’s always a challenge to work with the pace of government and policy. Bear in mind that we’re farmers—so we’re on an agricultural schedule. And so exactly now is the time that these farmers are facing these painful decisions: are they going to plant or retire their license? Potentially close the farm? There’s other tandem advocacy that we’re doing that’s time-sensitive as well. The opportunity for farmers to fallow for a year—to retain their licensing but not have the cost associated with licensing, including some of the local tax structures that are irrespective of what your crop will look like that year.”

Origins Council represents nearly 900 cultivators and associates through its partnership with Trinity County Agriculture Alliance, Humboldt County Growers Alliance,  Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, Sonoma County Growers Alliance, Nevada County Cannabis Alliance and Big Sur Farmers Association.

“When the tax was enacted, it was in the vicinity of 10 percent of farm sales,” Casey O’Neill of HappyDay Farms told High Times. “With the market crash,  the tax now accounts for as much as 50 percent of farm sales. This is unacceptable, especially when California is running a multi billion dollar budget surplus. Farms are teetering on the brink of insolvency, now is the time for bold action.”

Johnny Casali, a multi-generational small farmer who was sentenced to 120 months in Federal Prison for growing this plant. Casali highlighted the specifics of how the dry-weight tax is impacting cultivators. “I used to sell our Huckleberry Hill Farm sungrown cannabis for around $1,400 a pound. Because of overproduction and the lack of market access, it has brought the value down to $3-400 per pound, depending on quality, and I’m paying 53 percent cultivation tax at $161.28 per pound. After the cost of production, I’m in the red. I hope that with this Rally, the legislators will see the small farmer as I do—as a rare, phenomenal group of hard-working, family farmers who worship the land, who are die-hard environmentalists, and who were taught by their parents and grandparents how to grow the best cannabis in the world with little to no carbon footprint. We are worth saving.”

The #NoDrugWarV2 Rally and Press Conference with Supernova Women and Origins Council is slated for Thursday, January 13, at 11 a.m. PST on the steps of the Capitol building, West side. Please arrive masked and prepared to employ best COVID-19 avoidance practices. 

Live far away from Sacramento? Remote attendees may watch the Rally live via Facebook or Instagram.

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