LAYTONVILLE (KPIX 5) — In Mendocino county, Spring means uncertainty. Uncertainty in the weather, the plants, and the politics of the plants.
“It’s changing so fast we can’t keep up with it,” says Nikki Lastreto, who grows medical marijuana on her small, remote ranch. For farmers here, 2016 is no ordinary crop. By the time these plants are ready for harvest, California voters will be deciding exactly what we’re going to do with them.
“To be honest, I don’t know how I’ll vote in November,” says Casey O’Neil, who has been growing cannabis for years on HappyDay Farms. It’s been six years since Proposition 19 failed in 2010. That year, many farmers here simply did not vote on the ballot measure, or they voted against it. In the Emerald Triangle (Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity Counties) the legalization push failed by nearly 10 percentage points as many people in the industry worried that passage might cut into their bottom line.
There were also plenty of people who didn’t get involved, simply because they didn’t want to be identified as marijuana farmers.
Six years later, the farmers have actually grown their own political movement, complete with lobbyists at the state capitol. “There’s been a turning point in the last couple of years where the industry is moving from the shadows into the light,” says Michael Steimetz, with Flow Kana. In fact, farmers are already looking past the November vote. In a tiny grange hall, dozens of small farmers are laying the groundwork for an organic cannabis co-op, deciding how to best leverage their power, and their plants – because all of them are convinced the landscape is about to change. As Steimetz explains it, “Hey, we are moving into a regulated market. This is definitely happening. If we don’t participate in the process, we’ll be left out.”
For the farmers, the end of prohibition will really just mean a new set of rules – and more importantly, a new economy. “The big corporations are going to come in. It’s gonna happen in other parts of the state,” says Lastreto who is hoping legalization passes. Even among supporters however is a fear that you might call “big pot” will steamroll the modest farmers that grew this industry with their bare hands. “There has got to be not only a place but an honor for those who crafted, created and maintained this under prohibition, and the idea that it would be snatched from us by big money now that it goes legal is abhorrent,” says O’Neil, who is currently undecided on any potential ballot vote.
So much like the plants, California’s cannabis farmers are branching out, trying to secure their own future when the state’s biggest cash crop becomes more like every other crop, because as Nikki Lastreto sees it, “it’s going to happen, and this time when the election comes, more people are going to vote up here.”