CA: First Annual Plumas Fest Trade Show Highlights Cannabis Moratorium Issues

Photo Credit: Maggie Wells

As the invited trade show guests went around the table at Anna’s Café on Sunday evening, Feb. 11, one might have had the feeling that these introductions weren’t all that different than something that might have taken place during the Gold Rush on the same corner of Main Street.

There were banking experts, distribution experts, insurance representatives, law makers, business people, truckers and of course ranchers and growers all coming together for a two-day trade show and conference called Plumas Fest designed to bring together people trying to work in the new and legal California marijuana economy.

Call it the Green Rush. Except the “rush” to join other counties in marijuana economic prosperity is not on Plumas County’s agenda. Local growers and potential growers expressed their dismay at the squelching of their potential economic prosperity by the board of supervisors’ moratorium on cannabis cultivation down to six plants per property — a moratorium that makes it, according to those assembled, impossible for their businesses to compete in the California market.

There was indeed griping.

“The board of supervisors lacks vision,” said one grower.

“If Plumas County can find a way to shoot itself in the foot, it will,” said another.

The Sunday night dinner, hosted by Ken Donnell, himself a potential cannabis entrepreneur looking to build a cottage business around edibles for aging arthritic pets, made it his mission to invite trades people in the potential industry from around California and rural Washington for discussions around the new legal industry.

Donnell loves a good trade show; he thought downtown Greenville was the perfect place to stage one on the cannabis industry. He plans to make it an annual event.

Particularly striking in the dinner conversation was a man dealing in the Department of Agriculture in rural Washington.

“The town I’m from looks just like Greenville,” he said. “I’m as conservative as you get and I’ve never smoked pot, but I’ve seen how cannabis can revitalize a town.” He spoke about generations of people in his town being on social services building small businesses and weaning themselves off of food stamps and other forms of assistance by becoming small business owners. Locals from Greenville nodded at the potential.

A pair from a distribution company discussed that as veterans, they’d struggled with opiates prescribed by their doctors. They treated the addiction and believe in cannabis being a non-addictive solution to ailments.

The most impassioned introduction came from local Harry Rogers, who talked about his ranch, the potential need to sell it if he can’t grow a crop that would make it a more sustainable venture.

A good half of the attendees of the dinner were not from the area — some making their first trip to Plumas County and some making return trips, happy to be back. One man said he’d first come up here on business and now vacations here. Attendees included ranchers in Sierra County as well as Plumas.

Donnell sees the potential of the trade show and conference as being another way to get the tourist and travel word out about Plumas County.

If the idea of a Plumas Fest — trade show and conference on cannabis — sounds like a festival of tie-dyed shirts, crystals and barefoot dancing a la the now defunct Solar Cook Off, it was anything but.

The Monday all day trade show and conference inside the Town Hall in downtown Greenville saw guest speakers orating and answering questions on business development, capital acquisition, insurance, agriculture, transportation and security, taxes and financial planning, and of course, legal questions.

Chief among the questions? In a state where marijuana possession and cultivation is now legal, how do we make sure banks, local governments and others entities treat business owners as the legitimate businesses they are trying to become?

Like any other trade show, there were panels on packaging marketing and branding; invention; and intellectual property. Several conversations surrounding these topics concerned businesses not growing cannabis itself, but packaging and manufacturing products that will be part of the industry.

During the day the peak attendance hovered around 55; during the evening as snow flurries began, attendance fell to around 20 people — short of the attendance hoped for the first Plumas Fest, but host Donnell was not deterred. “I was hoping for quality over quantity and we got that.”

As the evening public discussion and question and answer session began, the locals in the audience did out number the panelists — many of whom were also locals.

“The moratorium will do nothing to prevent the black market cultivation from continuing,” said one panelist.

The conversation switched to banking and the trouble cannabis-based businesses have with banks treating their businesses as if they are illegal enterprises. Banking experts bemoaned the dangers of the former cash-based businesses that need the safety and legitimacy of proper banking.

The most outspoken local property owner on the panel was Crescent Mills-based Matt Fogarty who has spent the last 18 months refurbishing and renovating the former Crescent Mills Hotel and store building as well as the two living spaces on the back side of the property. A software engineer originally from the Bay Area, now a Crescent Mills resident, he sees the moratorium restrictions as a way to isolate Plumas County from economic growth.

“We need to get the law right in Plumas County, otherwise it will be really, really hard for business. We could be taking in two million dollars of tax revenue each year into the general fund in Plumas County. Could be funding the schools and fire departments. But we might settle for an initiative that grandfathers in a few people and brings in $100,00 a year, if that. We might miss the boat,” Fogarty said.