The morning sun shone gold upon the meadows and hillsides of River Txai Farm. Echoes of small engine airplanes and ravens cawed overhead. Bugs hummed the summer buzz, flitting through the legal cannabis gardens. After major infrastructure remodels, hours of city hall and community meetings, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in permitting fees, this farm was a model of compliancy. California state legislators just need one more thing from small cannabis farmers… the shirt off their backs.
Senate Bill 162 (SB 162) proposes a total ban on advertising cannabis through the use of branded merchandise and apparel from all licensed businesses to reduce youth initiation and use. If passed, licensed cannabis companies will no longer be allowed to create or sell shirts, hats, stickers, or any other branded merchandise.
“Let’s get real here, cannabis never hurt anyone. It is not a gateway drug. It is a gateway to better living,” Chiah Rodriques stated.
Rodriques and Jamie Beatty are the wife and husband team behind River Txai Farm and it’s cannabis brand, Arcanna Flowers. They also started Mendocino Generations aka Mendo Gen, a collective of about 40 other organic Nor Cal cannabis farms. Beatty and Rodriques have been cultivating cannabis for many years and work closely with the community on both cannabis and non-cannabis related issues.
An Arcanna branded hat shades Rodriques face as she tends to a row of the once-outlawed plants, and it’s hard to believe that her hat is now the legal problem. “As a small brand and collective,” she explained, “we see the apparel ban as unnecessary regulation. We have come so far with legalization, the last thing we need to be worried about is if children are influenced by a leaf on a shirt or hat.”
For small farms and brands, apparel and other forms of advertising are ways to stand out uniquely and support the branding companies’ creative work. Arcanna’s logo and marketing campaign was developed byBrandon Kight of the Mendocino Group, a cannabis-focused branding company. Color and catchy names are used in their detailed strain menu to differentiate each strain for the consumer or patient.
“Arcanna Flowers is a unique genetics-based brand,” Beatty said. He is the plant breeder of the operation and has been using unique genetics for 16 years. “Our niche is the discerning consumer, people who are looking for something special,” he explained. Touring the grounds, we passed CBD seed projects and giant, full-sun plants. True Berrymore, one of their signature strains, tests at 29 percent THC, and Beatty has back-crossed it to stabilization with predictable phenotypes. They have about 14 signature strains with memorable names like Jedi Nights and Lemon Fire OG, and are also experimenting with high CBD strains like Ringo’s Gift from UV Organics, a fellow Mendo Gen farm.
The name Arcanna is a play on the word arcana with one ‘n’, which is defined by Webster’s dictionary as the mysterious or specialized knowledge, language, or information accessible or possessed only by the initiate. A medicine song about arcana resonated with Beatty, and with an extra ‘n’ for cannabis, Arcanna was born.
Beatty and Rodriques are also involved with MAP, the Mendocino Appellations Project, and work closely with Flow Kana and the Flow Cannabis Institute, the world’s first cannabis campus.
“I enjoy the new freedom to talk about and promote cannabis, now that it is legalized,” Rodriques said, confessing, “everywhere I go now I’m wearing my brand shirt or hat, talking about [cannabis] all over the place. I network so much and it has opened up a whole new world of conversations.”
Introduced in January 2017 by state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), SB 162 was approved in the Senate and is currently under review in the Assembly. Limitations on cannabis advertising, including branded apparel and merchandise, are already in place to protect children and young people under 21, with Proposition 64 restricting sale of branded items to businesses or events where attendees must show proof of age, such as in dispensaries or industry tradeshows. Private and third parties would be exempt from this ban, as SB 162 would classify it non-commercial. So, cannabis clothes and items will still be created, distributed, and worn in public, just not promoting, benefitting, or created by any of the legal, compliant farms and companies.
SB 162 draws a loose comparison of cannabis to tobacco and alcohol. Research is cited connecting an increase in teen use of tobacco and alcohol due to advertising through apparel and merchandise. However, the alcohol industry does not have a comprehensive ban on branded items, only the tobacco industry does. Congress and the FDA issued a rule in June 2010 prohibiting the sale of tobacco branded items like hats and t-shirts. It seems non sequitur that the alcohol industry be permitted to create and sell branded merchandise, considering the dangers of alcohol poisoning and drunk driving.
An LA Weekly article by Dennis Romero discussed the bill, and strong opposition was noted from the Southern California Coalition, the largest cannabis business trade group in Los Angeles. “The bill would materially hamstring small business owners’ ability to grow in the land of opportunity,” said Adam Spiker, executive director of the organization. “We are firmly against it, and will work to ensure lawmakers are aware of the harmful ramifications it would have,” he said, remarking on how ridiculous it is to ban small businesses from advertising, marketing and branding.
With Mendo Gen, Rodriques helps farmers get compliant and move toward staying compliant in sustainable, healthy ways. “Not spending every last penny on compliance,” she declared, noting that farms will have to pay an annual $3-10K to state water board, for example, just to stay compliant. While she agrees that water usage and land stewardship must be considered and managed responsibly, large financial commitments such as these add even more struggle for small farms.
“We came together as a collective, to promote ourselves and promote Mendocino sungrown cannabis. Because we know we can survive better through unity,” Rodriques told me with the entrepreneurial, never-say-die pragmatism of a heritage cannabis farmer, legal or not.
I asked her how people can help fight the bill, and Rodriques urged, “Stand up for your rights! Be active! Write letters to the assembly members and post this issue on social media!”
To learn more about Arcanna Flowers and Mendocino Generations, visit: ArcannaFlowers.com and @Arcanna_Flowers
To learn more about SB162, visit: Leginfo.legislature.ca.gov
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