Just about every year I've worked as a reporter in Humboldt County, the rumor has made its way into my newsroom: Philip Morris is buying up local properties, looking to get into the weed game. It's never checked out — until now. Kind of.
News broke last week that Altria, the umbrella company under which Philip Morris and its iconic Marlboro brand fall, made a $1.8 billion investment in Cronos Group, a Canadian company with holdings in recreational and medical marijuana markets, including the PeaceNaturals and OGBC brands. Included in the deal is an option for Altria to take over a majority holding of Cronos Group stock with an additional $600 million investment.
While there's no indication yet that Altria or Cronos have any interest in Humboldt County, Big Tobacco's plunge into cannabis is just the latest indication that some of the world's deepest pocketed companies are lining up to join the Green Rush. What's that mean here in Humboldt?
It's hard to say but I have a hard time imagining that Philip Morris has our best interests at heart. Quite the opposite, really, as I'd bet everything I own that the company wouldn't hesitate to crush every single cannabis business in Humboldt County if it could squeeze $1 out of the wreckage.
So if you enjoy cannabis and care about the local community, I'd suggest you buy legal, buy local and buy sustainable. It may cost you more. There are some moneyed interests circling the industry who can afford to operate at a loss while smaller operators — you know, the ones who shop in our stores and restaurants and attend our school board meetings — bleed out. If you don't want to see that happen, you're going to have to vote with your wallet.
In perhaps related news, the Lost Coast Outpost broke the story this week that Grown Rogue International Inc., an Oregon-based cannabis company, has leased the old Bien Padre Foods facility on Railroad Avenue with plans to open the 16,000-square-foot building as a retail facility early next year.
Grown Rogue bills itself as a "seed to experience" company with indoor and outdoor cultivation operations that result in lines of flower, pre-rolled and concentrate products. According to the company's website, Grown Rogue plans to sell its own product categories that are "produced or sourced in California." The company also recently announced a formal partnership with acclaimed chocolatier Jeff Shepherd to craft THC and CBD infused chocolates for markets in California and Oregon.
Erin Mundahl reports in Inside Sources, meanwhile, that as the cannabis industry continues to grow in the Golden State, so do its tensions with organized labor.
Under state law, business owners with more than 20 employees are required to allow union representatives to talk to their employees about forming a union. With many cannabis businesses steadily growing, more and more are triggering this requirement and unions are looking to organize the industry workforce.
Mundahl reports that the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which launched its Cannabis Workers Rising campaign back in 2010, has been pressing to unionize shops but high employee turnover rates have stymied efforts. Apparently, so have a few business owners.
Indus Holding Co., which owns Altai, an edibles manufacturer in Salinas, was recently dinged by the National Labor Relations Board for firing employees who tried to unionize. The company was ordered to rehire the five employees and fork over back wages.
MedMen, the cannabis giant that has retail outlets in California, New York and Nevada, in addition to a 45,000-square-foot greenhouse in Nevada and a similarly sized facility under construction in Desert Hot Springs, is also facing some labor troubles. Last month, two plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging the company failed to pay employees for "off the clock work" and overtime, to provide mandatory meal and rest breaks, and to keep accurate employment records.
An attorney representing the plaintiffs called the suit a simple case of "wage theft" and said it could eventually grow to include hundreds, if not thousands, of plaintiffs.
Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.