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‘Death by a thousand cuts :’ California’s first year of legalized pot is no smooth trip

(Ndlr : Faute de temps et de moyens pour se consacrer à la traduction de ce bon article (à lire entièrement) publié dans le San Francisco Chronicles. Voici donc un extrait assez symptomatique du phénomène depuis la légalisation du marché du cannabis en Californie)

Steve DeAngelo, a co-founder of Oakland’s Harborside marijuana dispensary, said as many as 90 percent of the 500 growers he did business with last year and a dozen “legacy” dispensaries — longtime operators that formed the foundation of the medical marijuana industry — have gone out of business.

“I look back on this year and think of it as the agony and the ecstasy,” DeAngelo said. “On the one hand, it’s the culmination of my life’s work, but on the other hand we’ve seen the destruction of a very special, unique, eclectic and colorful culture.”

The focus now seems to be on making the recreational market viable, but efforts to ease the tax burden, including proposals to cut excise taxes from 15 percent to 11 percent, have gotten little traction.

Meanwhile, growers say, the cost of being in the business is astronomical. Business licenses cost anywhere from $1,205 for a permit to grow 25 outdoor plants to $77,905 for a 22,000-square-foot indoor plantation. Growers and manufacturers also have to pay for lab testing to assure regulators that the marijuana is free of pesticides, chemicals and toxins.

Packaging is another big expense. All smokable and edible cannabis must be in child-resistant containers and affixed with labels that outline potency and dosage amounts. There are also strict protocols on how to transport, distribute and dispose of excess or defective marijuana.

“Every farmer I know is struggling,” said Nikki Lastreto, who with her husband, Swami Chaitanya, grows their signature brand Swami Select on a remote farm near Laytonville (Mendocino County). “I’m really proud to say we are still in this game because it’s been tough.”

Making matters worse is a statewide backlog in processing licenses. Industry officials estimate that only about 10 percent of growers who have applied for licenses have gotten them. This has led to a shortage in the number and variety of products on store shelves.

“I don’t know any consumers who are satisfied with the prices or products compared to how it was a year ago,” said Dale Gieringer, the director of the California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.

It doesn’t help that almost all transactions have to be done in cash because most banks won’t take on a business that is still considered illegal by the federal government.

To avoid the hassle, as many as two-thirds of California communities have prohibited the cultivation, distribution and sale of the herb. Most of the 110 cities and counties in the Bay Area, including San Francisco, are in the business, but liberal Marin County joined their more conservative brethren and rejected storefront sales.

While the legal market contracts, the sale of bootleg marijuana is going strong, especially around Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties, known as the Emerald Triangle, where as much as 80 percent of the illegal pot sold in other states is produced.

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