Chem Tales: Some Growers Are Still Unsure About Prop. 64

The proposed Adult Use of Marijuana Act has failed to capture the excitement of the most committed cannabis activists.

One striking aspect of Proposition 64 — also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (or AUMA) — which polls predict will legalize pot in California next month is that its support comes from the mainstream center-left while failing in many cases to capture the excitement of the most committed legalization activists.

In pro-cannabis circles, it’s often said that Proposition 19, the unsuccessful 2010 initiative to legalize recreational pot, failed because it didn’t have support from Northern California’s growers. But other factors, like choosing a midterm year — when voters tend to be more conservative — contributed as well. And the fact that the activist class saw it as too friendly to big business probably didn’t help, either.

This year is different. Legalizing is no longer a novel concept. It has been done in multiple states with generally well-received results. There doesn’t seem to be any stopping it, though many of the most committed activists have chosen to withhold their support. Activists for all causes can allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, but criticisms of AUMA from those most devoted to cannabis have real bite.

Hezekiah Allen, the head of the California Growers Association, which represents smaller growers and businesses, wrote at that AUMA is a giveaway to corporate growers. “It will be interesting to see if Prop. 64’s billionaire backers can convince voters that the AUMA is the right way to achieve” legalization, he wrote. Officially, his organization is neutral on the California vote.

There’s still dissonance in seeing a legal marijuana bill win the bulk of its supporters from the political center. Its two most prominent supports are Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a mainstream Democrat who’s running for governor, and Sean Parker, the billionaire founder of Napster who knows an investment opportunity when he sees one.

Undoubtedly, some of Allen’s ambivalence over AUMA owes itself to the fact that passing it could undermine the livelihoods of the growers he represents, many of whom have fought for years to reach this milestone. Newsom can support legalization for all the right reasons and at the same time have little regard for the interests of the small constituency of professionals engaged in what the federal government still considers an illegal activity.

As legalization spreads, I suspect we will see more examples where the cannabis industry wipes its feet, sits down, and absorbs the trappings of bourgeois life. There are already many companies vying to become the Williams-Sonoma of bongs.

It’s only in the last two years that cannabis has been a part of my life. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like for a grower who has lived through it all, to hear Sacramento endorse pot and at the same time tell him he’s now out of business.

Even for those with less at stake, it’s easy to recognize that weed’s illegality created a culture that will not survive legalization in one piece, and California’s pro-business governor is a reminder of that.

I like how the magician and legalization supporter Penn Jillette, in an October interview with Marijuana Business Daily, gave an early elegy for what we will lose as cannabis trudges toward respectability.

“What I’m really hoping for is that the marijuana industry can keep its funk,” he said.

“When Nevada first started with gambling, even though it was illegal, even though it was all very, very shady, there was a certain kind of individuality and honesty. Then, in the ’80s, corporations really took over Vegas and it got very homogeneous and very mall-style in general and McDonaldized.

“Certainly the trend is that marijuana is going to become legal throughout the USA, and I just hope that the marijuana industry can keep that mom-and-pop, funky style that Vegas had in the ’60s, instead of becoming monochromatic like Vegas became in the late ’80s and ’90s.

“That’s the biggest challenge to the industry I can see — just keeping it fun and honest and human.”

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