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The Weeds of Law


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As Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy's 90-plus page report continues to make the rounds, the rave reviews keep piling up.

For those who haven't been paying attention, the Gav spent months filling the commission with diverse stakeholders — including our own former Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos — and holding about a half dozen community forums and fact-gathering sessions throughout the state. The result is a massive report that outlines how a regulatory system for legalized marijuana could be designed and implemented in California.

Locals in the industry have been excitedly touting the report, and at first blush it's easy to see why. One of the report's stated goals is to "level the playing field for small- and mid-sized actors to enter the legal market," one of the key talking points local interest groups have been pushing for the last year or so, fearing legalization may come in a form that squeezes out Humboldt's small farmers. "The goal should be to prevent the growth of a large, corporate marijuana industry dominated by a small number of players, as we see with Big Tobacco or the alcohol industry," the report states, going on to recommend giving current "responsible" growers a path toward legitimacy.

Throw in the commission's recommendations to protect the youth, industry workers, local control, medical patients and recreational consumers, all while generating a bit of revenue, and what's not to like? But, while anyone with a basic understanding of the facts on the ground in marijuana country probably can't help but nod along when reading through the commission's 58 recommendations, someone with a firm understanding of public policy and market forces will quickly begin pitying whoever ultimately has to harvest legislation from the seeds the commission has sown.

For example, it's great to say the state should put a priority on restoring habitats decimated by illicit grows, institute a seed-to-sale regulatory tracking and labeling system, fund education and public health programs, and require product testing for molds, pesticides and contaminates. These are all good things. But how do you achieve these goals while protecting small farmers and stamping out the black market?

As growers have found in Washington State — where the price of legal recreational weed started at about $30 a gram, according to an article in Time — regulation is expensive. Those added costs will make it harder for small growers to make ends meet and to bring the retail price of legal weed down to a point where it undercuts the illicit market.

That's not to say Newsom's commission did badly. It's imperative to start any discussion about new legislation with a statement of goals. But when one descends into the weeds of making law, it's just as important to prioritize goals and take a cold, hard look at what's possible. That's where California's bold new post-legalization world will take shape, and here's hoping all those Garberville farmers who turned out to see the Gav back in May are just as engaged in that conversation.

Remember in June, when we brought you the story of some Santa Ana cops under investigation after a surveillance video showed them sampling marijuana edibles during a dispensary raid, with one giving his fellow boys in blue a hearty thumbs-up of approval? (Week in Weed, June 18.)

Well, their lawyers are now trying to stop the department from using the footage in an internal investigation, arguing that the officers believed they'd destroyed the dispensary's surveillance system during the raid and consequently had a "reasonable expectation" of privacy, according to a story in the Orange County Register. With that, we'll reefer you to our cover story.


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