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Benner: 2016 was actually a good year for pot growers

The year 2016 was a good year for the Nevada County pot growers.

Although it started off badly, with a total outdoor ban on their crop, many cannabis farmers were motivated to come out of the shadows in a show of force and solidarity. Together they rallied to defeat Measure W, which would have codified the ban into permanent law. As they organized, their common cause grew into a movement, and the movement gave birth to the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance. It looks as though 2017 is likely to bring even more good news for Nevada County pot growers, and for the region as a whole.

An organization is only as solid as its members. And it wasn’t until more than 100 members showed up for an event at the Holbrooke Hotel in November that the true vision emerged for what is possible.

“If we can just get 1,000 members we would be the largest trade association in the county,” Jonathan Collier, regional chair of the California Growers Association told the crowd. Collier, who is on the executive board of the alliance, said governments tend to respond to organized voters and the alliance could provide a platform for change, education and community building.

Familiar names in the movement also addressed the crowd, encouraging farmers to spread the word about the organization’s efforts: educational campaigns to support farmers who want to become licensed, community outreach through local nonprofits and advocating for a new ordinance.

They looked back at 2016, starting in January with the total ban on all outdoor growing. In the six months leading up to the June election hundreds of farmers came “out of the closet” and became political activists. Farmers who had once been staying behind the scenes were now participating in the fight to defeat Measure W, with groups such as Americans for Safe Access, the California Growers Association, the Committee to Tax and Regulate Cannabis, the No on W Committee, Women Grow, and Hope for Silas.

Activists worked to register voters, to inform them on the issues, and to ensure that voters went to the polls on Election Day. They spoke out at public meetings, passed out flyers, called voters on the phone, debated at town halls, hung signs and posters and wrote to the local newspaper.

And though voters defeated Measure W by a wide margin, the victory was short lived. In a reactionary move in July, the Board of Supervisors failed to honor the spirit of Measure W and passed in effect a new ban — even more restrictive than the first.

But as 2016 ended, prospects looked promising again. Sheriff Keith Royal announced that he will not run for re-election. Former Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster announced he would be running for the Sheriff’s seat.

Supervisor Ed Scofield said in a letter to the Alta Sierra Homeowners Association “I believe we need to be creating a task force that not only has those previously mentioned groups represented, but also includes other key bodies such as Environmental Health, Agricultural Commission, Building and Planning, Finance, Fish and Game, the District Attorney and any other agency or group that has an interest in the legitimate growing of medical or recreational cannabis.”

Hopefully the alliance will represent a voice and a group that is interested in a legitimate cannabis industry.

This coming year the alliance will be advocating for a permanent ordinance to help cannabis farmers comply with state laws. The leaders of the new alliance bring a refreshing new energy to an old movement — they are smart, talented, and committed to perseverance. Sixty percent of the voters who said no on W want change. The alliance could hold the key to a bright future for cannabis farming in Nevada County.

It’s only a matter of time until the Nevada County Board of Supervisors realize what most of the county’s residents already know — that when the cannabis farmer prospers, the whole county can prosper too.

It’s only a matter of time before they realize this truly is Gold Country.

It’s green and renewable.

It’s the best in the world.

And it’s grown here, under the sun, by the Nevada County Cannabis Farmers. Yes, 2016, the year of the ban, was actually a good year for pot growers. It was the year “pot growers” became cannabis farmers. And it was the year that gave birth to the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance.

Let’s keep the positive changes coming in 2017.

Charles Benner lives in Grass Valley.

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