Cannabis Country: In 2019, it’s all about survival

Sonoma West [January 2, 2018]

Less than a month ago, I attended an hour-long panel, “Tips for Making Money in the Newly Regulated Market,” that took place at the Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa.

Oddly enough, no one offered any suggestions for making money in the cannabis market, which changed drastically when “adult use” became legal in California on Jan. 1, 2018. It’s been a bad year for growers, as nearly everyone in the industry has known for months.

Hearing the news at the Emerald Cup made it sound official. Tina Gordon, a board member with the International Cannabis Farmers Association, told the audience at the “Tips” panel, “Be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

She added, “I don’t know how to solve the banking thing.” No one did, though nearly everyone at the Emerald Cup bought or sold something, including cannabis and consumed it right there at the fair grounds.

As Tina Gordon and others know, the cannabis bureaucracy has made life uncomfortable for many farmers who once earned a comfortable living on the black market, though they were also subject to arrests and rip-offs.

Growers who were busted or robbed bounced back. Bouncing back isn’t as easy these days.

The “Tips” panel moderator, Kristin Heidelbach-Teramoto — a 15-year veteran with the Teamsters Union — summed it up when she said, “It’s all about survival.”

Arthur Darling, 78, knows about survival in the drug culture. In many ways his story, which began in the 1960s, is also the story of a generation. Darling worked at The Oracle, the San Francisco underground newspaper, lived in a commune called East West House, befriended Janis Joplin before she became famous, and took drugs to flunk his physical exam for induction into the military, which kept him out of Vietnam.

Darling wasn’t always stoned, or if he was, it didn’t stop him from working as a dishwasher, baker, carpenter, electrician and plumber. Arrested a couple of times for possession of marijuana, he went to jail and didn’t moan and groan about it.

Hezekiah Allen, the former executive director of the California Growers Association, also knows about survival in the cannabis industry.

“I moved to Sacramento in the hopes of bridging the gap between rural California and the state government,” he told me at the Emerald Cup. “Now, I’m in rescue mode and trying to make the best of a bad situation. Many haven’t survived.”

Sadly, the Cup has lost much of the pizzazz it had during the days of pot prohibition. But after all these years, aging hippies like Arthur Darling are still curious about pot, young cannabis activists like Hezekiah Allen are still feisty and Teamsters organizers like Heidelbach-Teramoto are itching for a fight.

All of them might help Revelation, a local company that grows marijuana indoors in Graton and manufacturers top grade cannabis extracts and edibles.

“Revelation is the red-headed stepchild,” Leon Sharyon told me. “Our neighbors just don’t want us here.” Sharyon owns the property at 1900 Green Valley Road where Revelation runs all year long.

Sharyon is an investor and also a crucial link between the craft beer and the craft cannabis industries. In fact, he connects CannaCraft, which manufactures cannabis products in Santa Rosa, with Lagunitas, the Petaluma brewery, where he served for years as the chief financial officer.

Brian Corrigan and his brother, Patrick, are the growers at Revelation.

“We only harvest about 240 pounds a year, but it’s organic, artisan and craft cannabis,” Brian told me. He added, “We’re after the entourage affect: the smell, taste, high and look.”

The Corrigan brothers exercise near total control over cultivation, including room temperature. Enough cannabis is harvested at Revelation to keep five “trimmers” going all year long, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with snippers and not machines. That’s a boon to the local economy.

There’s no noise, no smell of weed, no watchdog, no armed guard and no barbed wire fence. Organic matter is composted and reused. Manzana, the factory that makes applesauce, cider, vinegar and juice, causes the only ruckus in the neighborhood.

Across the street from Revelation, big trucks pull in and pull out all day. At the height of the apple season, the only smell is the smell of apples.

Still, Graton residents complained to the county about the cannabis at Revelation.

“There’s still a stigma attached to cannabis,” Brian Corrigan said. “People don’t know what’s really going on, so they fall back on old notions, like cannabis is the gateway drug and attracts bad people.”

Chuck Ross, the dynamic executive chef at Revelation, said, “We’re professionals trying to make a living.” Ross is known in the trade as “The Godfather of Sauce.” This year, he’ll make a cannabis-infused hot sauce.

At the Willow Wood Market Café in Graton, one employee told me, “The local foes of pot bad-mouth the pot industry and then go back of the café and smoke a joint. That’s hypocrisy.”

Johan Raskin

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