- DEEP BACKGROUND 'Raskin? Yeah, a real enemy of the people.'
Never have so many Sonoma County cannabis farmers felt so frustrated with the permitting process that once offered them the opportunity to move product and make money, legally.
Those same farmers are reluctant to speak out and thereby jeopardize negotiations with county officials. One former cannabis-industry lobbyist who has worked closely with the county Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD), agreed to speak to the Nugget on condition of confidentiality. Call him "Deep Toke."
"There's no back-room conspiracy on the part of PRMD and [PRMD director] Tennis Wick to stymie the process, but the outcome is the same as if they had actually conspired," says Deep Toke. "Wick doesn't tell his underlings what to do or not do, but he creates an atmosphere in which the message is, 'Marijuana people aren't welcome here.'"
Deep Toke adds that Press Democrat stories about cannabis violence, along with irate citizens who don't want weed in their neighborhoods, have made elected officials afraid to lean on PRMD to expedite the permitting process.
"The supervisors don't want to stick their necks out and risk losing popular support," says Deep Toke, "and people like Wick don't want to lose jobs, pensions and status in the community."
Alexa Rae Wall, who serves on the Sonoma County Cannabis Advisory Board, says she can't put her finger on any single reason behind the failed permitting process.
"It's a mix of everything," she says, and adds that she's flummoxed why the county has accepted millions of dollars for cannabis permits but has not issued a single one for outdoor cultivation.
Dennis Rosatti, a public affairs consultant who works with cannabis cultivators—and who served as the executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action—says he has clients who were given a stamp of approval, only to be arbitrarily denied.
"The country has changed the rules repeatedly," says Rosatti. "It's not surprising that growers have moved away and that most of the cannabis for sale in dispensaries here isn't grown here."
Mike McGuire's Senate Bill 67 calls for extensions on the permitting process, but even if it passes it won't remedy the situation. Marijuana Business Daily's John Schroyer has already reported that thousands of cannabis companies will lose income, face product shortages, and be forced to shut down.
Two years ago, local growers predicted the current fiasco. Now, many remain in the black market. Deep Toke adds, "Everyone is scrambling to get big so that when the feds legalize, they'll be bought up, not forced out."
Jonah Raskin is the author of 'Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.'