Cannabis crop confab at Benziger’s roost

Posted on October 11, 2021 by Sonoma Valley Sun

What do marijuana folks talk about when they get together? The answer to that question might not be as obvious as it seems.

By Jonah Raskin

Folks who aren’t a part of what started out as an integral element of the counterculture, then morphed into agriculture and is now an industry, are often surprised by some of the pot topics which can get technical and scientific. One outsider texted me a few days after the cannabis confab at the start of October when the 2021 harvest was still in full swing. “What a minute dissection of the chemical components and effects of cannabis,” the outsider exclaimed. “It’s a new world.”

A brave new world one might add, and has been one ever since California voters approved Prop 64 which legalized weed for citizens over the age of 21 and allowed for taxation, regulation and normalization of sorts. 

The confab took place at Mike Benziger’s Glentucky Family Farm on Sonoma Mountain where he grows medicinal herbs, and vegetables for the Glen Ellen Star, which his daughter owns and operates with her chef husband Ari.

Mike also grows a small but potent marijuana crop, much of which he sells to Solful, the dispensary in Sebastopol which will soon launch a sister shop in Santa Rosa. Business is good. It has been up all through the pandemic. Mike smokes his own homegrown product in a pipe in the evenings and thinks it helps to improve his health and well being.

The confab at his farm took the form of a panel. PR man and cannabis aficionado, Michael Coats, moderated ably. “It’s an indication of how far we have come that we can get together,” he said. He might have added together without anxiety and not in secrecy. In addition to Benziger, the panelists included Marley Lovell, (whose parents named him after you know who), and Ben Blake, who grow craft marijuana together in a one-quarter-of-an acre garden in Mendocino.

Industry insiders, from left: Mike Benziger, David Downs, Marley Lovell, Ben Blake, and Eli Melrod

They say they’re following the rules and that they’re strictly legit. These days it can be hard to tell who is legal and who isn’t. Many growers go the blackmarket route at the same time that they adhere to county and state regulations. “Some folks think it’s their duty to  disobey unjust law, “ said David Downs, the California bureau chief of Leafy, an industry publication.

No one knows more about weed in the Golden State and in the whole U.S. than Downs. Indeed, if anyone has his or her pulse on the industry it’s him, so nearly everyone at the confab paid close attention to what he said. What he said was news: that cannabis is so big in Oklahoma that Sooners are now calling their state “Smokeahoma,” and also that California dealers are buying at dirt cheap prices weed cultivated and harvested in Oregon where there’s a glut, and that they were packaging it and reselling it in California at inflated California prices.

Downs said, “There are no clear good guys and bad guys. It’s a rich and a complex story.” He added that exporting cannabis legally from California to other states would not happen soon.

There were almost as many reporters at the confab as growers. They came from the Sonoma Business Journal, The Sonoma Index Tribune, The Valley of the Moon, the Bohemian, and the Sonoma Sun. The Business Journal representative wanted to know if some legitimate growers were snitching on outlaw growers to eliminate competition. Ben Blake said that some snitching was going on but that it wasn’t a major trend.

Benziger said that he was irrigating his plants mostly from rain water and not groundwater and that so far the drought had not been a big issue for him. After the panel discussion, he led a tour of his vegetable and herb garden and then took guests into his marijuana patch where the plants towered above the people. “You’re smoking the farm when you smoke Glentucky cannabis,” he said. “It’s important to educate the public through show and tell.” The kind of weed he wanted, he explained, “reduced anxiety and increased awareness.”

Eli Melrod from Solful said that cannabis was once a mysterious crop and that it was important to connect consumers to farmers and educate both groups. The older generation in his own family had become informed. “My mother tells me that pot today smells like flowers,” he said. “She loves it.”

The swag from Solful—hats, water bottles and T-shirts—was cool. The soft drinks and the sandwiches, fruit and vegetables were more than ample. The pot? No one, except David Downs was smoking pot and he was discreet about it. Benziger gave me a small jar with half-a-dozens buds from a stain called “La Bamba.” I took the jar home. I’m saving the weed for a rainy day which I hope comes sooner rather than later.



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