Large Crowd of Cannabis Cultivators Ask for Relief

[This article was originally published on Kym Kemp's Redheaded Blackbelt].

Yesterday, over 200 supporters of the Suspend Measure S movement rallied in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse at noon. Desperate cannabis farmers, faced with nose-diving prices and markets so saturated with product they are unable to sell at all, laid out their case for suspending what they called the “punitive” Humboldt County Measure S tax.

With horns from supportive motorists at times drowning out the speakers, a series of farmers and their allies asked for help from the Board of Supervisors.

Natalynne DeLapp, Executive Director of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance, a trade association for the cannabis industry laid out the case to the crowd which included three county Supervisors–Michelle Bushnell, Rex Bohn, and, eventually, Steve Madrone. “These people are your friends and family members,” she reminded them. “This is your community and they are vital to our collective success…We are standing here today not asking for a handout, but a reprieve from Humboldt County’s flat rate cultivation tax–a tax that does not adjust with market conditions.”

She explained that Humboldt County’s Measure S tax is a marijuana cultivation tax paid in two installments on the area grown by the farmer and it has to be paid even if the crop fails or can’t be sold. No other crop in California is subject to a tax of this kind, she said.

DeLapp went on to explain the problem. The price of cannabis has plummeted because the market is flooded, she told a crowd that was feeling the pain. “Self-funded cannabis business cannot survive two years of deficit profits,” she pointed out. “The proverbial pickle barrels of cash have been long since depleted.”

She also noted that repealing this tax was not repealing any tax that other businesses had to pay. This, she said was a tax only for cannabis business. She pointed out, “Cannabis businesses do pay taxes–They pay taxes on their taxes” because, unlike other businesses, they can’t write off everyday expenses.

She and other speakers noted that more than $47.5 million has been paid to the county by growers under just Measure S alone and if the cannabis cultivators collapse, that money won’t continue to stoke the coffers of the local government.

“We are asking our community to give us a lifeline,” she said. “Suspend Measure S. We are asking for October 2021 payment to be forgiven. The May 2022 payment to be waived. Suspend Measure S for a year and then develop a new tax plan that is fair and equitable…Humboldt County we are telling you, there is no money left. You cannot squeeze blood from a stone.”

Laura Lasseter, spokesperson for the Southern Humboldt Business & Visitors Bureau, told those assembled there that cannabis along with the redwoods and the coastline brought tourists to the area. She argued, “For decades, the Humboldt County cannabis industry served as the underlying, driving force of the overall prosperity of the economy…the impact which spilled over and reached all industries throughout the county in some way or another. The cannabis industry is an asset to the County of Humboldt and needs to be treated as such… .”

Another speaker, Dylan Mattole, a legacy cannabis farmer who owns Mattole Valley Sungrown, argued that growers aren’t asking for handouts. He said, “We are asking that our businesses be normalized and treated with respect like the other businesses in our county.”

He went on to explain, “We are not asking for any [special] tax deductions or reprieve from our income taxes, our payroll taxes or our county land taxes or any of the other taxes that we all pay. We pay the same taxes as any other business. We actually pay extra…when it comes to our federal income tax.”

Mattole argued, “These special taxes were levied exclusively on cannabis because of prohibition…For over 100 years our government has been waging this so called war on drugs. But this has not been a war on drugs, it has been a war on people and culture.”

The Measure S tax, he argued was rooted in an “outdated bias.” He concluded, “We can’t tax cannabis punitively and simultaneously expect all the farms growing it to survive…End the war on drugs. Suspend Measure S now.”

After the speeches, Supervisor Bohn, spoke to our reporter, Ryan Hutson, saying he gets “daily phone calls and emails” about the situation and he understands the “turmoil” that a lot of the growers are going through. He told us, “I don’t know if [the cultivators] are going to get everything they want…I don’t know if we are going to get everything we want…I think there is going to be somewhere in there where we can meet in the middle.”