Pot Collectives: Road To The Future Or Path To Frustration?


Photo: Humboldt County News

Exclusive Interview: Humboldt County Growers Find Collectives Bring Complications
By Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town
Northern California Correspondent
“It seemed so much easier when it was illegal,” my knowledgeable friend told me candidly. “You basically had to hide what you were doing and find your own way to get your crop to market. Trying to do this legally with others and letting the government and the law in? It’s a headache.”
Toke of the Town spoke with a grower in Humboldt County who, along with others, has taken the steps to establish a farmer’s collective, primarily a way to come out of the shadows legally in an effort to develop safe and fair practices for the distribution of marijuana.

Photo: The Ganja Blog

Toke of the Town: How’s it going?
Farmer’s Collective: Not good. [Tired laugh] For everything we’ve done correctly, we’ve made a few mistakes that have virtually grounded us.
Toke: First of all, what is your definition of a collective and what are your goals?
Farmer’s Collective: A collective is a way for growers and patients to come together under the legal canopy and, by being transparent, are as legit as any other farmer’s cooperative. That way a grower can grow and a patient who is a member can obtain medicine legally without having to resort to black market practices. We thought it would be like the perfect circle. One would be able to sustain the other. But there have been a few problems…
Toke: Like what?
Farmer’s Collective: Some are so basic; we should have seen it coming. Other things, you have no idea of what you’re getting into until you’re there.
Toke: For example?
Farmer’s Collective: Our first mistake was not having a contract or some kind of deal with a dispensary for additional distribution.

Photo: Faded Fools
Purple Bubba Kush grown in Humboldt County

Toke: That seems like a no-brainer. That would be the first piece of business I would establish before starting. I mean, you want a place to be able to distribute your medicine, right?
Farmer’s Collective: You’re thinking like a person who lives in San Francisco. Because the dispensaries control the two greatest factors concerning the market, the price and the strains patients want. You’re under the belief that this is the way it’s always been. We’ve become dispensary-centric, if you will. Right now in winter of 2010, dispensaries, because they are the so-called legal market place, give the impression that they dominate and dictate the supply and demand of the Marijuana market. And that’s true for now…
TokeFor now?
Farmer’s Collective: Don’t forget, we’ve been trying to develop collectives and co-ops for almost 14 years now.
TokeI had no idea.
Farmer’s Collective: After the passage of 215 that allowed for the growing and small distribution of medicine, few of us, starting in 1997, tried to get a collective going.

Photo: PhoenixFarmer
A juicy bag of primo local product, Humboldt County Kush

TokeWhat happened?
Farmer’s Collective: There were a lot of problems. We just couldn’t get it together. The farmers up here aren’t the most…collective type. And another thing that hasn’t changed since we first tried this…there are more distributors than there were patients here. Everyone grows. We don’t have the demand here for an eighths or even a quarter or half of an ounce like patients ask for in your average dispensary. The area caters to a majority of growers, not end-users. That’s south of here.
TokeSo what’s changed?
Farmer’s Collective: It’s not a question of what is changing, but what will the market allow. Because we’re talking pure capitalism here: Supply and Demand. Right now there is a glut of Marijuana. Some growers sat on their crop waiting for the outcome of Prop 19. You can see in the news how the Mexican cartels had tunnels built and tons and tons of product ready, if Marijuana had been legalized.
Because there’s more supply than demand here, nobody is really getting their price. Maybe through a collective we can find distributors in Southern California or elsewhere for our crop, though…We wouldn’t be able to do that as individual farmers.
TokeWhat about opening a dispensary in the Triangle? It’s kind of absurd that the number one spot for growing marijuana in the world doesn’t have a local dispensary.
Farmer’s Collective: Oh, there’s a few that have tried, but think about it.

Photo: The Emerald Triangle News

TokeTo me it would be like opening a fruit stand along the side of Highway 101 with signs reading, ‘O.G. Kush, Fresh!!!’ or ‘Get Purple Urkel, Purple Urkel, the purplest!!!’
Farmer’s Collective: [Laughs] Someone tried to open a dispensary up here some time back. Patients only bought edibles and hash.
Farmer’s Collective: Most of your patients up here are all set when it comes to green bud medicine.
TokeOh yeah. Duh. Do see yourself trying to open a dispensary again?
Farmer’s Collective: Oh yes, we have to. Patients like to see and touch the medicine. Most of us growers still have straight jobs working in town at banks, hardware stores and dress shops. I would say almost once a day, someone is asked by a visitor or a tourist, ‘Where can I purchase some Marijuana?’ People assume it is legal up here and available.
TokeSo what are you going to do? Delivery service to the Bay Area?
Farmer’s Collective: Yes, we need to have a presence there.
TokeHow do you get into this market without being here?
Farmer’s Collective: At the Hemp and Cannabis Expo in September of 2010 at the Cow Palace, we had a booth. We offered to deliver our organic, sun-raised medicine from Humboldt County to your doorstep in the Bay Area at a very good price ($300/ OZ). If you signed up with us to be a member of the collective, you were also given a small sample of the medicine.

Photo: Humboldt County News

TokeHow many memberships were you able to get?
Farmer’s Collective: Over 500 new members.
TokeOut of the 500 or so who committed to the collective, how many patients ended up really utilizing the service?
Farmer’s Collective: Six.
TokeSix patients? That’s all?
Farmer’s Collective: Yes. In retrospect, giving away samples of pot is not a good indicator on the intent of new members: whether they will be dedicated to our cause or not.
TokeIs part of the problem that this is such a new industry, that the path to come above ground is very hazy without a clear paradigm or cohesive strategy?
Farmer’s Collective: Some collectives are working. North Stone Collective comes to mind.
TokeWhat did they do right that you guys aren’t doing?
Farmer’s Collective: I don’t know. We really don’t have that much communication with each other. Plus, Prop 19 was on everyone’s mind for the past year, so we’ve dropped the ball in that respect.  

Photo: Humboldt Growblog
Headband — said to be a cross of O.G. Kush and Sour Diesel — is one of the most sought after strains in Humboldt County

TokeWhat do you need to do in order to to get your collective off the ground?
Farmer’s Collective: Like I say, the basics. We have to figure out the tax situation and that means more lawyers and accountants. It looks like common wisdom says there’ll be a $50 tax on the ounce that will be distributed for $300.
We have to keep notes of our meetings. Not only because we’re stoners and we forget, but because the government requires notes showing how we were formed and that we’ve met and held meetings. We could be asked to show minutes of meetings by the I.R.S. 
There’s other small issues…Are we independent contractors or employees of the collective? Mostly bureaucratically monkey business. 
The good thing about the government is they don’t ask what you’re growing, they just want their money. So the tax stuff and other government requirements can be easily met once we understand their rules. The hard part is us.
TokeWhat do you mean?
Farmer’s Collective: To start the collective all members needed to contribute money and a pound of medicine. There hasn’t been any return on our investment… yet. Plus, some growers feel they aren’t getting their fair price within the collective. Some members whose medicine isn’t top-shelf are irked that others got more for their crop.
There’s different prices?
Farmer’s Collective: We have two different grades. Each grade has its own wholesale price.
Everyone up here thinks their crop is better than yours. To separate it into two different grades was difficult enough, and there is a substantial difference in price.

Photo: Faded Fools
Another example of the Headband strain, grown organically in Humboldt County.

TokeHow much?
Farmer’s Collective: Top shelf gets about $2500. The second grade, about half of that.
TokeOuch! The prices are still way down? 
Farmer’s Collective: It gets very personal.
Plus, there’s been stories, gossip really — of other collectives, that as soon as certain growers become part of the collective, gophers or some other critters have snuck into their drying rooms and eaten their crop. And now they need help from the collective.
That same grower who’s never had a problem when they were alone now needs the assistance of the collective for financial help. It gets weird.
TokeWhere are you going? What’s the solution?
Farmer’s Collective: We need a marketplace up here, that’s for sure. We need a place where tourists can stop and check out our buds. Just like a wine tasting tour of Napa Valley.
We need to learn and get better at what we’re doing. And that is happening faster than you think. Political action groups and hemp-oriented lobbies are being formed up and down the coast.  We definitely need to be somewhere in the Bay Area.
Our real main competition is indoor pot. The indoor grower doesn’t have our challenges on any level. 
We all believe up here that if we could have a section in a dispensary in the Bay Area, just a small part that is distinctly apart from the indoor strains, we would rock. Patients want organic, sun-raised medicine that doesn’t mess with their system because of the added chemicals. 
Another one of the problems we have up here is we’ve been in the business so long, our strains are almost obsolete. The dispensaries and patients want the modern hip strains like the O.G. this and indica that. Last year everything had to be purple. I’m sure sativas will make a big comeback next year.
We have too many heirloom strains that we’ve been unwilling to let go of. The kids today never heard of ‘Bliss’ or ‘Meadow Passion.’ We have to grow what the market wants or dictate and give them their dope du jour. Y’know, go after the ‘Whole Foods Crowd.’
And most importantly, keep the price down.
TokeIt sounds like an almost impossible venture.
Farmer’s Collective: That’s why it is important to like what you do and smoke what you like. 

Photo: Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town correspondent Jack Rikess blogs from the Haight in San Francisco.

Jack Rikess, a former stand-up comic, writes a regular column most directly found at jackrikess.com.

Jack delivers real-time coverage following the cannabis community, focusing on politics and culture.

His beat includes San Francisco, the Bay Area and Mendocino-Humboldt counties.

He has been quoted by the national media and is known for his unique view with thoughtful, insightful perspective.