Sonoma Valley grows its own
'From seed to sale, for the first time in our state's history,' boasted State Sen. Mike McGuire recently, 'medical marijuana will now be regulated across the state of California.'
The first-term state legislator was bragging about new comprehensive medical marijuana legislation, a package of three bills signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last month known as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. It's no accident that McGuire co-wrote the bill: he represents the North Coast of California – including the Sonoma Valley – where the majority of marijuana is grown in the United States.
How this suite of bills – SB643, AB266 and AB243 – will affect marijuana growers, patients, and law enforcement is a question that is being actively debated among all affected parties. When it goes into effect in just a few weeks – on Jan. 1, 2016 – that debate will only intensify.
'We're still digesting all of the new legislative changes,' said Lt. Bret Sackett, Sonoma's Police Chief. 'It's still to be determined how that's going to roll out. Until then, we're focused on keeping the status quo until the county counsel tells the Sheriff to change their policy.'
The bill establishes a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation under the Department of Consumer Affairs; licenses will be issued for various levels of cultivation, manufacturing, testing, dispensing, distribution and transportation. All products will be tracked, the rules for cultivation and distribution standardized, and environmental impacts will be controlled. The resulting taxation can provide money for local law enforcement activities and environmental cleanup, among other structural regulations.
The picture of compliance with current marijuana regulations – California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, in 1996 – is a complicated one, according not only to law enforcement but dispensary operators, cultivators and even patients.
Medical use is now legal in almost half of U.S. states, and recreational use in several – including Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska, along with the District of Columbia.
Meanwhile, Mexico's Supreme Court just last week ruled that the prohibition of the consumption and cultivation of marijuana for personal use is unconstitutional – saying it 'violates the human right to the free development of one's personality.'
Mexico's bold decision was foretold just days earlier by Sonoma resident Jorge Cervantes, who has been involved in cannabis cultivation and regulation for over three decades. Cervantes has written a number of books and articles on cannabis, the latest being 'The Cannabis Encyclopedia,' a hefty tome of almost 600 full-color pages filled with images, charts, diagrams, step-by-step instructions that is, well, encyclopedic.
'It's happening pretty much at light speed,' Cervantes said of legalization, during an interview earlier this month. 'In Mexico, it could be legalized this week.'
His prescience may have been based on some inside dope, so to speak: the book's foreword was written by Vincente Fox Quesada, Mexico's former president.
Here in the Sonoma Valley, cannabis consumption and cultivation are largely discreet. But it's here, make no mistake. Rumors abound of cannabis growing happily amidst the grapevines of tolerant winemakers; of commercial operations in warehouses; of expansive greenhouses under the canopy of Mayacamas forests.
According to Dave McCullick of the Sonoma Patient Group in Santa Rosa, Sonoma Valley is a significant supplier of medical marijuana. 'There's a lot of cannabis money running through the Valley,' he said. 'This is a big part of the economy of the Valley, this is a big part of Sonoma County, this is a big part of California, especially Northern California.'
The Sonoma Patient Group, like other dispensaries, is technically a collective: members first get a medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor, then 'join' the collective by showing the recommendation and an ID. They can then purchase their cannabis as medicine in a number of forms: from tight and odoriferous buds to honey to cakes and cookies to creams and sprays to pre-rolled joints.
'Currently all our products, generally speaking, are from patients,' said McCullick. Ever since the California medical marijuana law passed in 1996, patients are allowed to grow cannabis. 'If one of the patients in the collective has excess cannabis, they can bring it to the dispensary and be reimbursed for it,' said McCullick.
John Sugg, a co-owner of the Sonoma Patient Group along with McCullick and Jewel Mathieson of Sonoma, estimates that dispensaries in the county sell $20 million worth of product every year; their dispensary alone takes in $1.5 million, third largest in the county. Larger dispensaries include Organicann and Peace in Medicine, both also in Santa Rosa.