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Mike Papantonio: A growers association issued a complaint saying opportunistic marijuana corporations are taking advantage of a loophole created by California regulators. They say the loophole puts small scale cannabis farmers at a great disadvantage and that that loophole should be removed. Joining me to talk about this is correspondent Brigida Santos. Brigida, who issued this complaint, and what is this loophole that they’re referring to? Why is that important?
Brigida Santos: Mike, the California Growers Association is suing the California Department of Food and Agriculture over a loophole that is left in Proposition 64 that the growers association says the defeats the entire spirit of the bill. Now when Prop 64 was passed last year it did include a ban on large cultivation licenses for the first five years. Until 2023 any large canopies over an acre in size will not be allowed to get permits. Unfortunately, there is an odd loophole in the language of this bill that allows for an unlimited amount of licenses on small operations. Now this would be canopies under a quarter acre in size. Unfortunately, now the corporations are able to go in. They have capital to buy 160 small farm licenses in some cases, which would give them a 40-acre canopy in total. That’s simply not something that these local businesses can complete with, Mike.
Mike Papantonio: This is an important fight because as soon as you let the ugly hand of big corporate America get involved, everything starts falling apart every time. I don’t care what area you’re talking about, whether it’s the media, whether it’s the car industry, I don’t care where it is. You let the ugly hand of big corporations get involved in the whole process that’s put out there begins to fall apart to the disadvantage of people who don’t have those billions of dollars. What demands are they making to prevent this marijuana monopoly, and how do they know there are groups taking advantage of this loophole? I hear you that there are people out here looking at it, but how do we know about that?
Brigida Santos: The California Growers Association wants the state judge to rule against the California Department of Food and Agriculture and say that they are violating the rules. They also want Sacramento County, which is where the department is based to stop issuing licenses to people who are going to violate the acreage cap. Now what’s so odd about this is that in the language of Proposition 64 it limited medium size cultivation operations to one license per entity or person. It’s almost as if they left this loophole for the small unlimited buying of these licenses on purpose. Now the reason why small farmers know this is happening is because in some instances single entities or persons have purchased 30 licenses, or they’ve applied for 30 licenses for these small operations, Mike.
Mike Papantonio: The case of Calaveras County is also indicative of why small marijuana farmers are having a hard time getting licenses to grow the crop because of the crowding issue of too many licenses. Could you tell us about that case and why small growers are threatening lawsuits. What’s that part of this case?
Brigida Santos: Two years ago in Calaveras County the board of supervisors began advertising to marijuana businesses to relocate there in order to stimulate the local economy, which had been completely destroyed after a wildfire in 2015. In 2016 the board of supervisors began accepting applications and money for marijuana businesses. In fact, they generated over $3.7 million in those fees as well as an additional $7 million in taxes, but as soon as Proposition 64 rolled out this year, the Calaveras County board of supervisors completely banned recreational cultivation in the county. Now about 200 licensed growers have about three months to completely shut down their operations, and they have not been giving any of that money back. They are accusing the board of supervisors of corruption and racketeering. Now they are threatening the board of supervisors, Mike.
Mike Papantonio: They’re worried about corruption, racketeering. Wait till the big corporations get involved in a big way. As far as what we know right now what are the corporations? Who are they? What are they trying to get their hands on in the California cannabis market?
Brigida Santos: Right now it looks like everybody is trying to get into the game. We’re talking about a $7 billion industry. You have venture capitalists getting involved, hedge funds and even Uncle Sam wants a piece. It’s unclear how this lawsuit is going to play out but again, as you said, it looks like this is just business as usual in America where corporations take over, and the Mom and Pop shops simply cannot compete, Mike.
Mike Papantonio: I’m wondering, Brigida, California is facing legal challenges from Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice. We’re hearing him make these proclamations about we’re going to change the way we look at marijuana, which is an odd thing to say when you consider the number of states that already said, “Hey, we are going to sell marijuana either for medical purposes, or we’re going to sell it across the board.” I think he’s pushing against the tide here. I honestly do believe the administration has said to Sessions, “Back off a little bit.” What’s new from that side of things between the state’s marijuana law and the federal government’s declaration to challenge it? Do you really see it as a serious declaration?
Brigida Santos: I don’t see it as a very serious declaration. Now Jeff Sessions has abandoned the Obama era policy that prevented the Feds from intervening in states that have legalized marijuana on a recreational level. However, he has not rolled out any plans for how he intends to do that, and California is not backing down as they had never intended to when it comes to this law. In fact, they’re moving forward full speed ahead. They say that they intend to make California a sanctuary state for marijuana, which would mean that local authorities and police departments will be banned from helping the Feds, if they do come in. Local authorities will not be able to allocate resources, time and efforts to federal interference here. I really don’t see this as being something that the federal agencies are going to go after because it would simply be too difficult for them at this point, Mike.
Mike Papantonio: While Jeff Sessions is talking about this, we have 150 people a day dying from opioids created by corporations, distributed by corporations like McKesson, and Amerisource, and Cardinal, produced by corporations like Purdue. We know what they’re doing. It is a legalized drug cartel, and Jeff Sessions has not even investigated one of these corporate CEOs that have made the decision to kill 150 people a day by addiction. It’s an interesting development I see taking place in D.C. He really needs to pay attention to the real criminals. Those are those cats dressed up in Armani suits up on Wall Street making decisions about how to kill people with opioids. Thank you for joining me, Brigida.