Fear and Shouting at the Emerald Cup - December 16, 2015 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Fear and Shouting at the Emerald Cup

The manifestation of the once-rogue marijuana industry's current commercial success and its untold future potential were on display last weekend at the Emerald Cup, the state's largest cannabis convocation. But while some of the state's 55,000 outdoor cannabis farmers weredressedfor success in Carharts, hoodies, and flannel, the biggest name — subject of the biggest news — was a no-show.

In between lining up for dabs of artisanal pressed hash made by Frenchy Cannoli and rushing the Cookies booth to pose for selfies with social media phenomenon Berner, more than 20,000 weedheads also heard two words, whispered like a mantra and uttered like a curse, over and over and over again: “Sean Parker.”

Parker was not present at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, where the merits of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act — the marijuana legalization ballot initiative that the Napster cofounder and Facebook billionaire will supposedly bankroll — were the hot topic. After all, as some of the shriller Cup attendees warned, if passed, in addition to allowing adults 21 and over the right to carry an ounce, grow six plants, and pay a 15 percent excise tax for the privilege, the AUMA could make the Emerald Cup — the operators of small farms mixing with the city slickers, most everybody pleasantly stoned, all of it – go away forever, regulated into the ashtray of history.

Parker has not written a check nor has he publicly declared himself the man who will pay for adults to smoke weed more freely in California, but the AUMA is nonetheless known as the “Parker initiative.” Also conspicuously absent were representatives from the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project, members of Team Parker whoworked on the legalization efforts in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado. And WeedMaps CEO Justin Hartfield, who parked $1 million in a pro-legalization political action committee in April, was nowhere to be found. (Weedmaps may stand to lose much under the AUMA; according to San Jose dispensary operator Dave Hodges, “95 percent” of the weed businesses advertised on Weedmaps's “Google maps for pot” may be forced to go out of business.)

WeedMaps's branding, at least, was everywhere. It was in “WeedMaps Hall,” on the “WeedMaps stage,” that Parker's impact on California's biggest cash crop was discussed during a legalization forum on Saturday night. Without Parker or other major players present, it was left to Nate Bradley, the executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, to speak on AUMA's behalf. In his endorsement, he offered what felt like faint praise. The AUMA is not perfect and needs more fixing, he told a crowd of a few hundred, but it's the best — and only — shot California has at legalization. “When it comes to an initiative, you're making a cake,” he said. “You need ingredients. You need a coalition. You also need funders.”

Funders are what everyone else does not have. As Bradley pointed this out for the hundredth time, supporters of rival ballot initiatives (which don't have a ghost of a chance of qualifying and were not invited to speak) muttered, shook their heads, and lined up to spout their personal fears during the “question” portion of the debate. In successive breaths, doubters noted that the Emerald Cup could be regulated out of existence, but that Santa Rosa could easily grant it a permit.

It felt a bit like a Republican presidential debate sans Donald Trump, with Scott Walker and Rick Perry posing questions from the audience.

However flawed it may be, Parker's initiative is good enough for Tim Blake, the veteran Mendocino farmer and Emerald Cup founder who publicly came out in support. “These guys are going to go, with us or without us,” said Blake, noting that the AUMA's authors added a five-year moratorium on large farms at growers' request. “If they didn't change their language, they'd have 1,000-acre farms, and wipe us all out.”

That public endorsement earned Blake the label of “sellout” by some of the movement's more militant types. “To me personally, it felt like a coronation and not a true debate,” said Marina, Calif.-based activist Kevin Saunders, who pledged to “personally sink the AUMA.” Later, on social media and on email threads, lawyers and activists stoked fears over other “new crimes” the AUMA would supposedly usher in: $100 tickets for smoking weed in public, warrantless searches from police searching for excess plants or an “open container” of bud, and jail time for cannabis concentrate makers using a solvent.

This is the atmosphere in California at the twilight of prohibition and the dawn of legalization: confusion, suspicion — and fear. “I feel fear. I feel real fear,” said one cannabis business owner I ran into on Sunday evening, after the awards had been handed out and the party was starting to break up.

“My business could be regulated away… by someone who is not here,” he added. “I put years into this shit. I have two kids. What am I going to do after this?”

The question wasn't meant for me. But there was nobody else around to ask.