by Rebel Fagin

In 2016 Californian’s will be voting on the legalization of recreational use of marijuana by adults. If votes match surveys it should pass overwhelmingly. So what happens next?

Stakeholders aren’t waiting to find out. Alcohol and tobacco companies have been eyeing this moment for years. Others like the Emerald Growers Association, the Humboldt Growers Association, and unaffiliated farmers are organizing to protect marijuana’s unique qualities.

In 2013 Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom formed the steering committee of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy (BRC) with Abdi Soltani of the ACLU and professor Keith Humphreys from Stanford to research the issue.

On May 29th the commission came to the Redwood House in Garberville to learn from people of the region. This was the last of three state-wide hearings.

The BRC is focusing on three goals: 1) protect the well being of children and adolescents, 2) preserve the public safety of Californians on the road and in their communities, and 3) create a fair, enforceable set of taxes and regulations that enhance California’s economic and physical health.

As expected, the independently minded folks of Northern California had ideas of their own to bring to the meeting. Repeatedly Newsom and other members of the panel encouraged their input.

The economic basis for Northern California had been timber. When Charles Hurwitz and other robber barons destroyed this industry marijuana farms filled that economic void. By now there are third generation farmers here. There’s a lot of wisdom in the hills and it was this wisdom that the BRC was tapping into.

The first audience recommendation to the commission was to reclassifying marijuana at the Federal level from a Schedule I drug, like heroin, to a Schedule II drug, like other prescription drugs. Congressman Huffman replied that he is currently working on this issue in Washington and receiving very little support. It is also being addressed in the Senate.

The Regional Water Board representative was concerned about pollutants and illegal water diversions. Those in the assembly didn’t support illegal grows on public lands and repeatedly stated that land bases and watersheds must be protected.

To help preserve the environment citizens were adamant about keeping big business, especially agri-business, out of the area, preserving small farms, and recognizing heritage rights for growers. All farmers, they insisted, must adhere to organic methods. Farmers want to protect the varied strains they have developed over generations. Different strains produce different results and for some medical patients this is extremely important. There was a suggestion that prior convictions for farming can not be a barrier to someone applying for a legal permit now. Any policy needs to grandfather in existing farms and streamline the permit process. There was a call to not limit the number of permits or make them so expensive that only corporations can afford them. The audience made it quite clear that agri-business is not welcomed here!

The panel and many in attendance wanted different regulations for medical marijuana than for recreational. One suggestion was to tax the recreational sales and consumption, but not the medical. People also wanted to amend the current medical law, 215, to allow for transportation. There were concerns around children eating marijuana brownies and other sweets. One suggestion was to use non-sweets for edibles.

What was exciting here was that citizens were taking responsibility for their destiny. They both voiced and addressed concerns and at times the assembly moved independent of the BRC panel. Town meetings may be common in New England, but here they are rare and watching citizens act as a democratic body is always thrilling. It helps remind those in government exactly who they work for.


Sources: Marijuana Policy Forum 5/29/15,, Corporations & democracy 6/9/15


Rebel Fagin writes for the Sonoma County Peace Press and