Marijuana Growers Put on T-Shirts to Convince Sacramento They’re a Political Force…and It Appears to Work
Moving from the black market into the bright light of political influence, means that more and more marijuana growers (or cannabis farmers as these prefer to be called) must step forward and acknowledge what they do. Not a comfortable position. No one wants to nabbed by a federal government still uncomfortably likely to swat a few pesky pot planters.
Yet, yesterday, at the Capitol in Sacramento, dozens of marijuana growers and their supporters, many from Humboldt and surrounding counties, donned “I am a farmer” t-shirts as they converged on a hearing for Assembly Bill 243–Medical Marijuana Cultivation. (Some non-growers wore matching “I love a farmer” shirts.) Two local organizations with large grower constituencies, Emerald Growers Association (EGA) and California Cannabis Voice (CCV,) coordinated the gathering in support of the bill. The two are positioning their memberships to become a political force in California.Becoming a force means stepping into the light of scrutiny. Danielle Burkhart from Humboldt said she wore the green t-shirt to the hearing. “I did it because I am a farmer,” she stated. “We aren’t criminals. Every other agricultural industry on the planet takes pride in their product and we should too.”
The bill’s author, Assemblyperson Jim Wood, represents the extended Emerald Triangle which reaches from Del Norte County to Sonoma and includes Trinity County to the east. The bill’s purpose, he said was to “address the environmental impacts of medical marijuana cultivation…to mitigate the impact of the crop on California’s water quality and supply.” The bill would require that all medical marijuana growers get a permit and comply with existing environmental laws and allow inspections of their plants.
An article that came out Monday and has been picked up by media outlets around the country highlights the efforts that EGA and CCV have made to show growers as friendly farmers to the public and lawmakers. The article states,
They decided to highlight their community as consisting largely of responsible farmers who are good environmentalists and employers but have been forced to operate as outlaws and unfairly lumped in with unscrupulous drug gangs that steal water for illegal pot grows on public lands. “The more consistent we can be in reminding people that unregulated agriculture is the problem and for all of the problems the solution is regulation, the better off we’ll be,” said Emerald Growers Association Executive Director Hezekiah Allen, a third-generation pot farmer.
Burkhart, the assistant executive director for CCV who proudly wore her green “I am a farmer” t-shirt, explained that she hadn’t always been comfortable telling people she was a cannabis grower. “It took awhile before I was ready to come out and tell my family.”
She’s gotten a lot more comfortable recently talking about her profession. “We’ve been saying it a lot more around our home counties.” she said. However, she said going to the State Capital and being filmed wearing the information on her chest was “nerve-wracking.” In addition she said, “We definitely got some strange looks.”
In the end though, she said, “It was a huge sense of pride and honor to represent the positive side of the cannabis community…We had a good section of the chamber filled with our people and spilled into the overflow area.”
Luke Bruner, a board member for California Cannabis Voice Humboldt, said that yesterday “was a historic day.” He added, “This is the 10 days that changed Humboldt” referring to the tour that representatives of the State Board of Equalization took of cannabis farms and businesses in Humboldt County. He pointed out that this particular bill was unique. “This is the first time that a cannabis bill has ever been before the agricultural committee.” Getting the government to treat cannabis as an agricultural product is a goal of many in the activist community.
On top of that he said that the large number of people who showed up in support of AB243 sent a strong message to law makers. (Bruner estimated a total of 100 were there, though others estimated 80 and 90.) “If on a Wednesday at one in the afternoon, you get a 100 people to show up, then how many people want to be regulated?” He said that this meant that thousand of small cannabis farmers were likely to support the issue.
Cannabis farmers, he said, were becoming a constituency that politicians, like Assemblyperson Jim Wood, were paying attention to. “We organized politically, we registered voters, we overcame individual policy differences to stand together–an entire community standing together to do the right thing for the environment.”
Hezekiah Allen, Chair and Executive Director of the Emerald Growers Association, said that Assemblyperson Jim Wood was very helpful and open but not all law makers were as receptive as he was. ‘We still get called criminals pretty often,” Allen said. But, he pointed out, the bill did pass through the agricultural committee and move to the next stage of the process. Allen explained, “Our end goal is to see cannabis declared as an agricultural product and regulated as an agricultural product.” But his group knows that step may not happen immediately.
Nonetheless, Allen says cannabis grower groups have made another step forward. “What started as a bill that focused on environmental impacts has expanded to include more. We’re hoping to continue the opportunity for members of our community to be involved in the process in Sacramento. We hope that through their involvement, we will continue to be influential.”