Sonoma County and the Future of Marijuana

Submitted by Phillip Smith on
Last weekend, I drove into California on US 101, the Redwood Highway, blowing past Crescent City and the Pelican Bay supermax prison as I headed south toward Sonoma County, where I will be residing for the next couple of months. The area's world-famous vineyards and wineries began appearing just south of Ukiah, and by the time I actually crossed the Sonoma County line, the vines were everywhere. When I got to my hotel in Santa Rosa, I was met with a complimentary bottle of Sonoma County wine and handed a hardcover book listing all the vineyards in the region. They offer tours and tastings, there are wine festivals and myriad events. Wine is big business in Sonoma; it is part of the local culture, and it is a celebration of the good things in life. So, why am I going on about the wineries of Sonoma County? Because this is what the marijuana industry should be like. Both wine and weed are "soft" drugs around which has grown a connoisseur culture. Both are eminently social drugs, to be shared and celebrated with friends and family. While both can be abused, neither is associated with the serious problems around hard-core alcoholism or hard drug use. Northern California's wine industry is an open, above ground, and vital part of the regional economy. It drives tourism to the area. Northern California's marijuana industry is hidden, underground, and a vital part of the regional economy. It, too, drives tourism to the area, but to a much lesser degree. If pot were to move out from the shadows—if we were to move to a system of regulation instead of prohibition—and we started treating marijuana growing with the respect we give wine-making, I can foresee a Northern California Marijuana Country that would parallel the wine country experience. Imagine taking off on a tour of the pot farms of Mendocino or Humboldt counties (or even Sonoma County, for that matter): You drive off the highway and through beautiful countryside, past fields of marijuana plants glistening in the sun, and through the gates of the local boutique grower's estate. The skunky odor of maturing buds fills the air. In the tasting room, workers display the estate's best, while visitors taste and contrast the varieties. (In wine tastings, the tasters spit out the wine after tasting it to avoid over-intoxication. Will pot smokers merely roll the smoke around their mouths without inhaling for similar reasons?) Marijuana is already a key part of the Northern California culture and economy. Embracing and developing the marijuana economy is only a matter of time. And the wine country model is a good and entirely appropriate path.

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