Small cannabis farmers in Mendocino County, in the heart of California’s marijuana-producing “Emerald Triangle,” lost big in their attempt to write mom-and-pop cultivation into the fabric of local law on Election Day.
Marijuana is one of the chief economic drivers in rural Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties—and, for small farmers, even rivals wine in some areas of Sonoma County. In some areas, it is the main source of economic activity.
Mendocino’s so-called “Heritage Initiative,” which would have legalized cannabis cultivation nearly everywhere in the county—including on former timber land—and removed a cap on the number of cultivation permits granted, lost by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. By early Wednesday, Measure AF was losing 64 percent against to 35 percent for, according to the latest county election results.
Opponents of the measure said Measure AF masqueraded as an effort friendly to small business. At least with its law-enforcement provision—removing cops from local cannabis regulations and replacing police enforcement with civil penalties—it appears to have badly overreached.
“We did an effective job of showing that claims that AF protected the environment, protected public safety and protected the small farmer were all false,” county Supervisor John McCowen told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.McCowen and his colleagues on the Board officially opposed the measure.
Under current Mendocino County rules, cannabis crops are now limited to 99 plants maximum —and only if the plot is 10 acres or bigger. Growers can cultivate 50 plants if their plot is 5 acres or larger, and anything smaller than that is capped at 25 plants.
Growers backing the measure said that bigger plant counts and less-restrictive zoning were necessary in order to compete with the big-time cultivation operations expected to flourish in the state after legalization.
It’s not clear how small farmers, in the business for years in the black market and then the legal gray-area of medical marijuana, will be able to compete with larger operations in the post-legalization market, especially if cannabis prices crash thanks to a glut of new supply.
Speaking of legalization—unlike 2010, when growers in pot-producing counties mostly rejected legalization effort Prop. 19, Prop. 64 won in Mendocino, 54 percent for to 46 percent against.
Unlike Prop. 64, California’s successful recreational-marijuana legalization initiative bankrolled by tech billionaire Sean Parker and out-of-state activist groups like the Drug Policy Alliance, Measure AF was funded almost entirely by the cannabis industry—namely, the small farmers who would benefit from it passage. Representatives of nascent cannabis brands like Flow Kana, Happy Day Farms, and Swami Select all wrote $1,000 checks, according to the Ukiah Daily Journal.
Celebrity stoner Tommy Chong, now in the industry himself as the principal behind the “Chong’s Choice” brand of cannabis, also contributed $5,000.