Cannabis farmers in California have the opportunity to work together, build cooperative brands and secure a competitive position in the newly developing market. But the longer they wait, the more leverage they lose in securing their value, as corporate competitors emerge.
As with any industrial boom there are businesses preparing to hit the market with boutique products and novel marketing techniques. Unfortunately, there are more people trying to get a piece of the action however they can, from selling snake oil products to skimming off the top of emerging companies' sweat equity. Green rush fever is propelling the cannabis industry into an age of innovation, while simultaneously dividing the community in competition for the regulated market, as well as the black market operators who want to go it alone.
The next two years will test the agility and resilience of the existing small farmers who created this foundation we build upon as they prepare for permit and license applications. Learning to compete on the regulated market is a whole new set of challenges with the cost of branding, marketing and securing sales.
Change is rarely met with majority approval and regulating commercial cannabis is no exception. The power struggle against a corporate cannabis takeover has begun. Yet the racketeer may not be clearly identified in all the confusion of the new regulatory structure. The fear of the alcohol model of tiered distribution has created outrage and fear in the cannabis industry. With reports of distributors charging 30 percent of revenue from farmers for distribution, they should be concerned.
The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act was delicately designed with protections for small businesses in mind. There are some people who disagree with the independent distribution provisions, but in fact it opens up their access to market. Having a strong distribution partnership will ensure that their product has a buyer. Distribution is not an additional cost; it's a cost that producers are already incurring—paying a more formal distributor-transporter is offset by the existing cost or the points they pay a broker or driver now.
Farmers actually control the market. After 50-plus years of prohibition, they are simply not used to having a voice and wielding that power. Farmers can create the solutions if they step up to the challenge. It begins with consolidating efforts as cooperatives and creating focused impact in local and state politics.
Tawnie Logan is the executive director of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance. Send comments to scgalliance.com.