In May 2015, Gavin Newsom, then California’s lieutenant governor, ventured deep into the Emerald Triangle, the state’s traditional underground cannabis region and the so-called Napa Valley of Weed, to pitch veteran growers on legalization.
Until then, weed farmers in California had been making middle-class (or, in some cases, much better) livings growing under the vague and erratic protections afforded by the state’s ambiguous medical-marijuana laws. Full-on legalization meant a shakeup—or a shakedown. Capitalized, corporatized Big Weed was real and wanted to “write a lot of you guys out,” Newsom warned to a packed meeting about what the future might look like in the tiny town of Garberville. “We cannot let that happen.” He swore allegiance to the cottage growers who managed to build both an industry and a brand despite the best efforts of law enforcement.
The Humboldt County crowd ate it up. Afterwards, Newsom stuck around and posed for photos. The next fall, 57 percent of Californians approved Proposition 64, legalizing recreational cannabis. In cannabis country—which had rejected legalization in 2010 in part over fears that, for them, a capitalized and corporatized commercial market meant economic ruin—Prop. 64 enjoyed a clean sweep.
Then things fell apart.