JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, we come back to our series
the Green Rush.
Now that adult marijuana use is legal in California,
the state government is starting to write
new rules to treat marijuana growers someone
like winemakers and allow areas to be considered
an official growing region.
The hope is that, by doing so, it could provide
a lifeline for small farmers.
Business and economics correspondent Paul
Solman has the story.
It’s part of his reporting, Making Sense.
PAUL SOLMAN: In Mendocino county, California,
Swami Chaitanya announces his presence…
(RINGING BELL)
PAUL SOLMAN: … to Ganesh, Hindu God of,
among other things, good luck, who presides
over the crop Swami grows to produce Swami
Select, his patented marijuana brand.
SWAMI CHAITANYA, Swami Select: All the potency
is in the female plants.
PAUL SOLMAN: So why do you have the males
here?
SWAMI CHAITANYA: Well, because we don’t know
which is which yet.
PAUL SOLMAN: Oh, is that right?
SWAMI CHAITANYA: Yes.
At a certain point, each plant will declare,
what’s your gender declaration, right?
So, they — and they change from time to time.
They do.
I’m not kidding you.
PAUL SOLMAN: So cannabis is gender-fluid?
SWAMI CHAITANYA: Absolutely.
PAUL SOLMAN: California’s marijuana market
has itself been pretty fluid of late.
Swami’s been growing for years at his remote
ranch.
But he went legit, and legalization brought
costly regulations and taxes, which his black
market colleagues aren’t saddled with.
And new industrial-scale rivals have economies
of scale that lower their costs.
So how can a small legal grower like Swami
possibly compete?
Branding.
SWAMI CHAITANYA: The place you want to be
is on the high end, not just quality, but
something about your style, something about
your story.
And you make it a small batch, and you make
that your advantage.
PAUL SOLMAN: Niche branding, as with wines
and their appellations.
SWAMI CHAITANYA: So the idea is that the soil
that a crop or a product grows in creates
something in that product which is unique,
and if you grow it anywhere else, it’s not
going to be the same.
PAUL SOLMAN: French wines are classified by
location, grape variety and winemaking practices.
Champagne can only come from Champagne.
Swami claims to produce the champagne of pot.
SWAMI CHAITANYA: If you take a bottle of sparkling
wine from Spain or anywhere else, and compare
it to a Veuve Clicquot or a Dom Perignon,
it’s going to be different.
The wine, the product is an expression of
the soil it comes out of and the culture and
skill of the people who make the product.
PAUL SOLMAN: At Alpenglow Farms in Humboldt
County, the cannabis flourishes near waterfalls
and flowers.
CRAIG JOHNSON, Co-Owner, Alpenglow Farms:
This is our signature strain.
We have bred these over the past 15 years
for our site and our location and our climate.
PAUL SOLMAN: This specific environment is
what French winemakers, and now California
pot growers, call their terroir.
Craig Johnson is shooting for a southern Humboldt
appellation.
CRAIG JOHNSON: Industrial America is not producing
what we produce.
You’re not seeing rows of greenhouses here.
We have regenerative growing practices, which
are above and beyond sustainable and organic
as you might know it.
So this is the Internet of the Earth right
here, these long fungal strands.
We have living soils.
You peel back that cover crop and there’s
worms and biology.
The checks and balances of nature, we try
to keep in tune with.
PAUL SOLMAN: And thus the entire culture of
cultivation is what makes his premium products
a hit, even his vaping oil.
And what is that?
CRAIG JOHNSON: So this is extract from our
flower, Blood Orange Kush, that was grown
here on our big flat.
This is extracted by a company called Chemistry.
You can think of it as a grape grower-winemaker
relationship.
PAUL SOLMAN: I see.
And they’re the winemaker, Chemistry?
CRAIG JOHNSON: They’re the winemaker.
We’re the grape grower.
This is single-source, single-batch.
PAUL SOLMAN: So, it’s like a vintage?
CRAIG JOHNSON: Yes, so this would be summer
2018, Southern Humboldt County, Alpenglow
Farms.
PAUL SOLMAN: Of course, the business model
wholly hinges on consumers caring where their
cannabis comes from, and willing to pay up
for it.
Craig and wife Melanie are betting they will.
MELANIE JOHNSON, Co-Owner, Alpenglow Farms:
There is a strong resurgence for family, family-owned,
family farms.
People want that experience of knowing where
their food comes from, where their medicine
comes from.
And I feel that, as a small farmer, we will
always have that niche.
We may not have a million people, but we will
have enough people.
CRAIG JOHNSON: We have a little bit of cloud
cover this morning.
PAUL SOLMAN: In order to find their people,
the Johnsons brand-boost every day, on Instagram
Live, for instance.
CRAIG JOHNSON: My goodness, I wish you guys
could smell that.
It’s amazing this morning.
We have people popping up live from Israel,
Uruguay, New York.
I want them to have an image of this site,
this area, and have a…
MELANIE JOHNSON: A connection.
CRAIG JOHNSON: … a connection to the plant.
PAUL SOLMAN: The Johnsons are, of course,
aware of the very different image of where
they harvest.
MAN: I have been shot at, beaten, kidnapped
three times.
PAUL SOLMAN: On Humboldt County’s Murder Mountain.
CRAIG JOHNSON: Which is right over the ridge
right there.
PAUL SOLMAN: A Netflix documentary about the
murder of a black market grower presents a
lawless, violent image that Humboldt farmers
are intent on countering.
Swami, in a prior life William Winans, a ’60s
Wesleyan grad, filmmaker, San Francisco hippie
who spent 10 years in India, has his own angle.
Is the way you’re dressed, the way you look
have anything to do with furthering your branding,
because it gives an authenticity to Swami
Select?
SWAMI CHAITANYA: So, I was a Swami before
I really started getting into growing the
finest cannabis, right?
But they go hand in hand, because there are
many, many swamis in India who start the day
with a chillum of hashish.
And it’s seen as a way to get more in touch
with the divine energy which surrounds us
all over the place.
PAUL SOLMAN: And Swami, who’s been toking
for more than 50 years, thinks there’s getting
in touch and getting in touch.
But don’t I have to be an aficionado to be
able to tell the difference?
SWAMI CHAITANYA: That would help.
(LAUGHTER)
PAUL SOLMAN: Dylan Mattole thinks an appellation
for his Mattole Valley Sungrown is key to
his farm’s future.
DYLAN MATTOLE, Mattole Valley Sungrown: It’s
more than just an agricultural commodity to
us.
It’s part of our culture.
PAUL SOLMAN: As to survival against industrial-scale
investors, Mattole says wine is just one model.
DYLAN MATTOLE: We have Budweiser, and we have
hundreds of small microbreweries.
PAUL SOLMAN: Some of Mattole’s neighbors have
formed a cannabis farmer co-op to create some
economies of scale.
MARIAH GREGORI, Uplift Cannabis Co-Op: Hopefully
that we will still have a chance that we can
actually compete against corporations.
I don’t have the money to spend on marketing.
I mean, with all these other farms, we have
a chance, so we can pool some of our resources,
that I might actually be able to do some branding.
DREW BARBER, Uplift Cannabis Co-Op: Just packaging
product is very difficult, not only the cost,
but the regulations.
Working together, each of us can share a piece
of that burden.
PAUL SOLMAN: Michael Salbego reminded us that
necessity is the mother of invention.
MICHAEL SALBEGO, Uplift Cannabis Co-Op: We
grow in this sustainable fashion because we
couldn’t afford to just go out and buy everything
in bags and buckets.
And we had to use the manure on the land or
cultivate things from our own property, because
that was what was affordable.
This is all going to turn into dirt.
PAUL SOLMAN: Like soil made from Amazon boxes.
You got a bonanza of worms here.
MICHAEL SALBEGO: The worms process the paper
into a super readily available plant nutrient.
PAUL SOLMAN: So small farmers are selling
the step beyond sustainable or organic, regenerative
farming.
But the market has other ideas.
MICHAEL SALBEGO: Now, all of a sudden, what
we did naturally was just farming.
It’s — now it’s, how many likes do you have
on Instagram?
How many pictures have you posted?
You have got farmers, family farms, that don’t
know if they’re going to make it.
We’re up against people with pockets that
are so deep that they can survive at a loss
for the next five years to capture market
share.
PAUL SOLMAN: Swami Chaitanya’s forecast?
SWAMI CHAITANYA: Our dedication is to making
the finest cannabis that we know how to grow.
And how big that gets is not up to me.
It’s up to the goddess of economics, actually.
(LAUGHTER)
PAUL SOLMAN: But if Lakshmi, Hindu goddess
of wealth, has made up her mind, she isn’t
telling anyone for sure just yet.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” this is business and
economics correspondent Paul Solman deep in
the woods of Northern California.