Despite its newly-legal status in California, cannabis remains a topic that runs long on controversy. Legal to some degree in 29 states and the District of Columbia, cannabis is nonetheless illegal at the federal level, and its industry generates vast sums of cash that cannot be legally banked.
Depending on perspective, it is a mild intoxicant with real medical applications or a dangerous Schedule-1 narcotic. Its legal production and operational costs are expressly forbidden as deductions by IRS code 280e, the only commercial enterprise singled out in federal tax code this way.
To say that everyone in America has not yet made up their mind about cannabis is to state the obvious. And in the crosshairs of this indecision are entrepreneurs like Jon Early.
Early, with a head of silver hair, seems more grandfatherly than counterculture. He is both vocal and guarded about his association with cannabis. He tends toward the acerbic, and can be bluntly plainspoken.
“We are days away from legal recreational cannabis in California, and nobody has a clue what to do. It’s a cluster-crunch,” Early said, adding with a wink, “I don’t want to use naughty words.”
Early represents a cohort known as Estados Nuevos, investors who own the buildings at 865-875 W. Napa St. where, until recently, the Annex Wine Bar and Community Café were located.
Early, as project manager, is overseeing rehabilitation of the property, with ambitions to use part of it as a cannabis dispensary. The problem, of course, is the City of Sonoma’s ongoing moratorium on dispensaries, initially adopted by the City Council in 2016 and recently extended another 10 months.
Frustrated by the gridlock, Early has been outspoken – regularly attending City Council meetings to advocate the cause. “They can’t keep kickin’ the can down the road,” Early said.
Early has long been at the forefront of cannabis advocacy, forming a collective in 1996 after the passage of Proposition 215 legalized medical marijuana. That proposition allowed Californians to cultivate, sell, and use medical marijuana, and Early’s collective, “Farmacopia,” had 1,700 members in short order. He produces a glossy magazine called “Farmacann,” and is the operator of an online dispensary which delivers cannabis to clients “all over the state.” A licensed contractor whose business ground to a halt in the recession of 2008, Early’s pivot to cannabis is all-in.
“My whole focus has been the medical side of it,” Early said. “I know what this product means in people’s lives.” And well he does. Early’s wife Jackie is nearing the end of a chemotherapy regimen and uses cannabinoid CBD’s to counteract its effects.
“This is not a direction we thought we’d ever go in,” Jackie admits.
Renderings of Estados Nuevos’s plans for 865-875 W. Napa St. show the property with a stately pergola running between the two buildings from the parking lot in the rear.
“It’s a gateway property,” Early said. “But it looks like a deferred maintenance building now. It’s a run-down property and we want to upgrade it.”
In the drawings, solid walls enclose the building’s front elevations, and a harmonious palette of browns, tans and reds are displayed. “It’s a cross between Cocoa Planet and Williams-Sonoma,” Early said, comparing the design to other local businesses.