In the heart of California's marijuana country, growers and civic officials in Mendocino County gathered in a unique pot town hall today to assess regional economic impacts should California voters decide in November to legalize marijuana for all California adults over 21.
"The legalization of marijuana will be the single most devastating event in the long boom and bust economy of Northern California," warned the meeting facilitator, Anna Hamilton, a Mendocino musician who has a radio talk show in the neighboring pot growing mecca of Humboldt County.
"How many people will be displaced?" she asked. "No one knows."
The forum, entitled "Life After Legalization," included brainstorming over the economic impacts of pot legalization and potential benefits - including developing a weed tourism industry in Mendocino.
"I think it will normalize the industry," said Matthew Cohen, a Mendocino grower whose Northstone Organics delivers pot to medical marijuana patients. "This is going to allow growers to step into the light and be competitive."
Cohen said Mendocino is well-positioned to develop a tourist-oriented, "boutique market."
Faced with concerns about plummeting pot prices, Richard Lee, the key proponent and donor for the November initiative, argued that Mendocino growers will be better off in an era of legalization.
"It's about ending prohibition," Lee said in an interview. "What the growers lose in price, they'll gain in security and peace of mind. They won't have to worry about violence and rip-offs. They won't have to be afraid to call the cops."
Initiative opponent John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association who wasn't present, said the Mendocino event smacked of "choreography" to promote legalization. He said hype about falling pot prices masks a wider opportunity for growers in Mendocino and elsewhere.
Ellen Komp, an advocate for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said legalization could allow Mendocino and Humboldt counties to market an "Emerald Triangle" brand of "certified organic" pot.
"We're starting to look at the pot legalization economy and what it may look like," Komp said. "I want to see tasting rooms and that kind of thing up here."
To read more on Mendocino County's pot culture, and its legalization debate, see the story in Sunday's edition of The Sacramento Bee.