The Future of Cannabis in Santa Cruz


As Santa Cruz County prepares to finalize its local ordinance governing cannabis cultivation and manufacturing activities, a group of interested stakeholders gathered on January 24 at the Resource Center for Nonviolence for “The Future of Cannabis” to discuss the short and long term future of the industry and how it will affect access, availability, cost, production and the environment.

Organized by Green Trade, the meeting is the first of several public events intended to build a coalition that includes consumer advocates, patients, caregivers, environmentalists, small growers and business people. Divided into two panel discussions, the evening also included addresses from County Supervisor John Leopold, attorney Ben Rice and Watsonville City Council member Felipe Hernandez, who stressed that the local tax rates and regulation of cannabis need to remain competitive with other municipalities. “Whatever benefits the industry, benefits the County,” Hernandez said, “we need to offer a pathway to licensing for everyone.”

Formerly the Mayor of Watsonville, Hernandez is running for a seat on the County Board of Supervisors this November, and his election to this position would be a key victory for the industry, tipping the Board towards a majority that’s supportive of the rich legacy of cannabis farming in the region. “We need Felipe as the third vote on that Board,” said KindPeoples CEO Khalil Moutawakkil, “these taxes are not workable, and the 7% County tax is egregious.”

Over one hundred people attended "The Future of Cannabis." (Photo by Rick Cook)

Over one hundred people attended "The Future of Cannabis." (Photo by Rick Cook)

Seeking tax relief on the local level is more likely to be successful than a change at the state level, and so Khalil urged all in attendance to be more active in local politics, including showing up at City Council meetings and the County Board of Supervisors meetings dealing with these matters. “The County does their best when they can,” remarked Moutawakkil, “they are responsive when people voice their issues.”

All panelists stressed the need for unity among stakeholders in the industry, since creating solidarity is the most effective way to wield political power. Pat Malo and Jim Coffis from Green Trade work tirelessly to articulate the shared values of the Santa Cruz cannabis community, which include being socially conscious, eco-friendly, and rooted in the traditional support of low-income patients. At this critical point in our local political process, it’s immediately necessary for activism aimed at preventing legacy farmers in the mountains from being disenfranchised in favor of larger agricultural concerns in South County.

Jeff Nordhall, the activist businessman behind Jade Nectars, raised the alarm that small farmers will be “bureaucratically banned through the Fire Code,” citing a document from the Fire Chief’s Association, buried in Appendix D of the Environmental Impact Review, which recommends requiring 25-foot wide road access as well as a holding tank of 120,000 gallons of water. These recommendations would make legally permitting mountain cannabis grow-ops virtually impossible, and are much more stringent requirements compared to what’s asked of vineyards, as detailed in a recent Good Times article.

Overcoming these challenges is possible with engaged political activism, and the collection of activists and business people present expressed optimism that Santa Cruz can create a local system of regulating cannabis cultivators and manufacturers that would prove to be a model statewide.

With overwhelming public support for cannabis evident in our voting records, Santa Cruz politicians have a unique opportunity to embrace the local growers that make our region stand out, and develop this wealth of expertise with an official appellation, as well as branding and marketing strategies. “Santa Cruz is a brand known across the world,” exclaimed Eric Shedlarksi, proprietor of GrowBiz, “so it’s not just about skateboards!”

How to Take Action:

  • Show up at two public meetings next week. The County of Santa Cruz will present a path forward for the establishment of legalized cannabis cultivation and manufacturing industries in Santa Cruz County. Interested parties and members of the public are invited to attend.

    The meetings will be held as follows:

    Wednesday, Jan. 31, 5:30 p.m.
    Governmental Building, 701 Ocean St., Santa Cruz, 5th Fl. Board Chambers

    Thursday, Feb. 1, 5:30 p.m.
    Felton Community Hall, 6191 Highway 9, Felton

  • Feb. 13, 2:30pm / 7pm - Show up at Santa Cruz City Council Meeting

  • Request to be notified of upcoming events by emailing to join a mailing list, or follow them on Facebook.

  • Review all relevant ordinance drafts and Environmental Impact Report information at the Santa Cruz Cannabis Licensing Office website.

  • Join Green Trade to make your voice heard as a stakeholder in the cannabis industry.

  • Follow KindPeoples for updates on these issues as they continue to develop.