– Cannabis/Marijuana Industry News

The examiner writes…

At the heart of California’s marijuana industry is a Corkman. Martin O’Brien, originally from Ballinlough, though based on the west coast of the US since the 1990s, is the owner of Foxworthy Farm, an 82-acre site in Sonoma County. Just north of San Francisco, it sits on the edge of the Napa Valley wine-producing region.

The area has a population of just over 500,000 and is known in the US for its agricultural output. In recent years, that output has struggled with poor, unpredictable weather and rampaging wildfires. Mr O’Brien’s operation at Foxworthy Farm had to evacuate twice last year due to fires.

The cannabis crop is no different, with a cloudy summer and heavy early rain damaging the cultivation operation throughout northern California. Mould is a major issue.

Corkman Martin O’Brien is at the heart of California’s marijuana industry, being the owner of Foxworthy Farm. He says the past 12 months have been ‘pretty insane’ since legalisation came into play and money men entered the market.

Speaking from a snow-covered Foxworthy Farm, Mr O’Brien said that the last 12 months have been “pretty insane” since legalisation came into play and the money men entered the market.

“So much has changed in California,” he said. “We have shipping manifestos now: Receiver information, product details, all the logistical and tax information. The compliance is through the roof; we have binders that run to three-and-a-half feet in length across the floor with compliance information. Everything from the placement of waterways to the distance to neighbouring properties, to the amount of water used during growth.

“And I welcome that. We are lucky. Berkley County was implementing a lot of this stuff a year before the law was passed anyway in anticipation, but tons of other people went out of business because they couldn’t handle it.”

Hundreds of smaller operations closed as a result of the regulation, though.

By September, Sonoma County officials had shut down more than 600 unpermitted cannabis operations since the start of 2017. They had levied more than $400,000 in fines to those operating without permits and officials added that they are willing to respond quickly to cannabis-related complaints.

Some 682 complaints had been received relating to cannabis cultivation on private property in the previous 18 months, with the vast majority of these — 638 — forced to stop growing. Just 24 were allowed to continue operating.

Mr O’Brien said there are fewer than 700 legal cultivation sites in operation in the area, but he estimates that roughly the same number are operating without permits at present.

He said that the bureaucracy that has emerged has changed the nature of the industry significantly.

“Just 20% of counties in California actually let people cultivate, despite the passing of the law and, in the counties that do permit it, there is a significant amount of taxes to consider: There is a 10% premium for cannabis, for a start. That is 10% on top of sales tax, state tax, employee benefit tax and everything else, too,” said Mr O’Brien.

“There is a new sheriff in town: It is the planning and zoning department, not the cops. It is a completely new world from the one that we started out in.”

Does he yearn for the old days?

“It is a good thing; it can only be a good thing,” he said.

It is good for the economy. There are no cartels, no deaths. There aren’t even any pesticides: it is all organic. It is a legitimate route for the county to do well in terms of tax revenue and, because of all of that, it is safe.

There is a 15% excise tax at the state level. Previously, huge resources were being devoted to tracking and cracking down on illegal operations, with no taxes floating to the top. Now, that money is being made available for those that need it.

Mr O’Brien also runs the longest running dispensary in the world: The Patients Care Collective in Berkely. He opened the doors on April 4, 2001, and, remarkably, was never raided.

At the time, it was one of more than a dozen dispensaries in the San Francisco, Oakland and Berkely area. Every single one of the others has since closed its doors.

What made the Patients Care Collective different?

“We were patient-focused,” he said.

“But, also, we never got into cultivation. The feds took a different attitude towards you if you were in cultivation. The DEA was targeting those people who put their heads above the parapet.

“But, for some reason, the district attorney didn’t see us in that way,” Mr O’Brien said.

Some of the products produced by Foxworthy Farms, owned by Corkman Martin O’Brien. He says there are fewer than 700 legal cultivation sites in Sonoma, but he estimates roughly the same number operate without permits

“Our little dispensary was never targeted. It was patient-focused: we were giving relief to people who needed it.”

It is this patient focus that still drives Mr O’Brien and the Foxworthy operation.

Expansion is on the cards. The potential benefits are huge, economically, but also for patients in need of medical marijuana, he said.

Last year, access to medicinal cannabis made national headlines in Ireland when Cork mother Vera Twomey set out to walk from her home in Aghabullogue near Mallow to the Dáil to raise awareness of the issues surrounding access to medicinal cannabis.

She was looking for access for her daughter Ava, who suffers from Dravet’s syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy.

Last August, Vera reported that her daughter is now “pharma-free” and is being treated solely by forms of medical marijuana.

It was just one of several such cases in Ireland.

Speaking late last year, Health Minister Simon Harris said that he supports the growth of marijuana for medicinal uses in Ireland.

However, despite describing it as a “major priority” for 2019, Mr Harris has insisted it would likely take some time to introduce measures to do so.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Ear to the Ground, he said: “This is not about the recreational use and people smoking joints. This is about using in a controlled way, in a monitored way, with the support of your clinician, a product that could ease your pain and suffering after you’ve tried all the conventional treatments.


“Does it make sense to grow your own in Ireland rather than be dependent on importing a product? I think quite frankly it does.”

However, he said the Government would be looking to import the product in the short term, adding: “You can’t obviously do that overnight. There is quite a lead-in time and there are patients who need this product as soon as possible.

“What we’re likely to do in the first course of action is to try and secure a product.

“Then, in the medium term, talking about growing our own and securing our own supply in Ireland is the sensible thing to do.”

Mr O’Brien said it is surely just a matter of time before Ireland and other countries follow suit.

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