Agribusiness Club talks about the cannabis industry

The Agribusiness Club hosted a virtual event in their guest speaker series on Feb. 8. Led by California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) professor and attorney Aaron Johnson, the discussion focused on the marijuana industry in Monterey County. 

Johnson teaches BUS 434, Policy and Regulation in Environmental Agribusiness, and works with JRG Attorneys at Law. 

Being from a farming family in the Salinas Valley prompted Johnson’s passion for agriculture. Listening to his father complain about over-regulation drove him to pursue a law degree, serving the field as an attorney. 

Johnson has been practicing law for 25 years, and his interest in cannabis stemmed from a baseball injury. After breaking his neck, he was prescribed pain medication that affected him poorly and he selected an alternative treatment method – medical marijuana. 

BUS 434 concentrates on changing policy, forming interest groups, and teaching students to navigate the regulated environment. Johnson represents growers in Salinas Valley and several dispensaries in the area. 

Cannabis production pioneers Grant Palmer and John Louie also joined the meeting to share their experiences in avocation and the challenges presented by legal restrictions. 

While many support marijuana products, this remains a divided subject. Today, there is more regulation than ever, and the government costs these entrepreneurs thousands of dollars each year. 

Palmer watched the market expand during his involvement in product development in the early 2000s, but he witnessed many friends go out of business. There are few legacy dispensaries left. 

“We have to use what we have,” Palmer said. “Our experience and understanding of the market to be very competitive.” 

 Palmer’s company, CannaCruz, is thriving because of vertical integration, which involves growing the product and performing distribution, shipment, and holding individually. 

Johnson explained that depending on others for sales removes the profit margin. “With the taxes being so heavy,” Johnson said. “Sometimes it’s best to control that from start to finish.” 

Event speaker and cultivation expert John Louie was also born and raised in Salinas, and his family farms have been a pivotal part of his life. Attending Middlebury College in Vermont allowed him to venture out, but he chose to return to the agricultural community he loves. 

Louie expressed that the dynamic of regulations makes working in this field highly challenging and often frustrating. The Green Rush draws greater attention to marijuana consumption, and the people enforcing these laws rarely see the effects of legal restrictions.

The industry is still emerging, and both Johnson and Palmer stressed that it is not too late to become a part of the cannabis industry. 

For students interested in environmental agribusinesses and policy, BUS 434 will be available in the Fall 2022 semester.

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