Cannabis and the County

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A sense of frustration characterizes the mood of the Sonoma County cannabis community, but cultivators are also smiling more now.

That’s due to Niki Berrocal who runs the county’s cannabis cultivation program, and who has help from analyst, McCall Miller, and from Andrew Smith, the current ag commissioner, who tells me, “It’s a team effort to amend our cannabis policy, and it’s especially challenging with Covid-19.”  

Smith and Berrocal have written and released an extensive report that calls for significant improvements to the county’s cannabis program. (sonomacounty.ca.gov/Cannabis-Program). It ought to be read and studied by everyone in the cannabis community.

Tony Linegar, who recently retired as ag commissioner, tells me “Cannabis can be a significant crop for Sonoma County farmers and ranchers so they’re protected from the fluctuations of the market.” He suggests that the one-acre cap on cultivation ought to be lifted.

I recently caught up with Niki Berrocal on a farm where twenty-five thousand plants were flowering, “I welcome and am grateful for cannabis economically, medicinally and recreationally,” she tells me, Berrocal feels comfortable with pot farmers and at the same time, doesn’t wilt under pressure from Permit Sonoma, which has its head in the sand and has resisted change.

For Berrocal to do her job properly the cannabis program needs more resources and fewer bureaucratic barriers. Sadly, too many applications for the cultivation of cannabis are sitting in an office, begging to be processed. Other changes are also needed.

Four years after California voters approved Prop 64, which ushered in the era of the adult use of cannabis, some growers are stuck in the old outlaw days, and some citizens want to roll back the clock and make the county weed free.

“It’s hard to go beyond long-standing paradigms,” Berrocal tells me. “But I’d like to see the day when the community can work together and make Sonoma a destination for wine, weed and wilderness.”

Berrocal grew up in a small farming community and graduated from University of Idaho and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. A natural born leader, she has slowly and steadily begun to chip away at the institutionalized barriers to the fledgling cannabis industry.

Berrocal tells me, “Cannabis never should have been made illegal. For a long time it has been a sacred medicine. It helped my dad when he had cancer.”

Berrocal’s father worked in law enforcement and emphasized community police work, now essential in the wake of Black Lives Matter. Like her father, Berrocal wants sustainability. “We need to understand the impact the laws have had on certain communities,” she tells me. “And not leave people behind.”

Jonah Raskin is the author of “Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.”
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