You can’t tell some people something they already know. Marijuana was legalized in California in 2016, but some people still can’t accept it. When Graham Farrar wakes up in the morning, he’s not looking for a fight, the fight is looking for him, because even though cannabis is legal in California, somewhere in Santa Barbara the war on drugs is still going on. Behind the scenes it’s a battlefield, and somebody has to fight for the right to legally grow, cultivate, buy and sell marijuana in Santa Barbara County. It’s an all-out air war in Santa Barbara, and Farrar is an ace pilot in the war against the war against drugs. No one shoots down the opposition’s best (if you can call it that) arguments with more bullshit-penetrating insight and pinpoint-accurate information at his fingertips than Farrar. Farrar also has important weapons on his side – the law, taxation and, of course, momentum.

Nevertheless, unable to undo laws legalizing cannabis – now, in one form or another, in 42 out of 50 states – a loud minority opposing cannabis in Santa Barbara is deeply rooted, well funded, and they have chosen to resort to death-by-1,000-cuts tactics of using suing, draining legal expenses, rising costs and time lost – suing, losing and suing again – to keep the highly taxed and regulated growing of legal marijuana out of Santa Barbara. It’s all part of larger strategy to keep a tight lid on legal cannabis.

TOAST recently caught up with Farrar and asked him about some of the key issues fueling the diehard resistance to growing, cultivating and regulating cannabis in Santa Barbara County.

Q. Cannabis is obviously legal, but for some non-users the old stigma remains? What do you think is at the root of their fight against cannabis?

GF: Cannabis is not a plant that is particularly unique to an agronomist or plant biologist in terms of the way it grows and the things it does. We find it unique because we have an endocannabinoid system in our body, and we make all kinds of endogenous cannabinoids, and it makes ‘fighter bodies’ and cannabis makes fighter cannabinoids. We’re learning how those things work. There’s actually a bunch of cool things they’re starting to research now – pain mitigation, anti-tumor, genetic, anti-bacterial, all kinds of stuff. [Yet] there’s nothing particularly unique about the plant.

People complain about the odor of cannabis, but there is a decent amount of the odor issue that is not necessarily about the odor itself, but that it is connected to the fact that there’s a stigma on the plant. Scent is actually a pretty emotional thing for people. For a small subset of the population it reminds them that cannabis is there and that bothers them along with the odor.

Q. Where does most of the resistance come from?

GF: There are three categories of people in our Santa Barbara community. The vast majority – call it 98% of the people – have no issue with it, go about their lives and don’t think about it very much. Or they’re happy to have access to it, or happy to have a job, or happy to have the tax revenues. Then there’s 2% of the people who are oftentimes particularly loud about their objections, which is fair. Everyone should be good neighbors. People living in quiet enjoyment is the foundation of our society. Of those 2%, only probably 1% are truly bothered by odor. Then there’s a percent who are bothered by cannabis and the odor because it’s in their nose or in their face. I personally love the smell of cannabis. I don’t think anything about that is surprising. It would never do anything but put a smile on my face if I was uninvolved and driving by and I smelled it. That said, I totally respect people for whom that’s not the case. I mean, I don’t like tuna fish, some people love tuna fish, neither one of us is wrong. For people who dislike the odor, I want to do everything I can to be a good neighbor. So we do all kinds of odor mitigation. We have entire operations that are planned around it.”

Q. What arguments do those who just don’t like cannabis, period, come up with to throw obstacles in your path? The smell?

GF: One of my projects is going through the appeals process, and there’s an appeal on it because they said the cannabis plant ruined the air quality. They said the cannabis plant caused ozone and was making our air in Santa Barbara to be bad quality… When was the last time you looked at a plant said that plant was a polluter? They save the rainforest, [plants and trees are the] lungs of the planet. I flew out a PhD climate scientist from the University of North Carolina to testify at my hearing against the folks who are trying to keep me from having a cannabis greenhouse, to tell the Board of Supervisors that it’s not possible that cannabis is causing ozone because it’s just a plant… So for the 1% of the people who truly care about the odor I’m willing to do everything that we can to make it not bother them. There’s the other percentage of the people who don’t like cannabis, and for them I don’t want to bother them, but the only thing that’s going to make them happy is my disappearance, and that’s not going to happen because the world’s a better place for cannabis in it, and were creating an industry that’s making that future more real. We’re creating jobs, medicine and tax revenue, all kinds of things that I think are very good and I’m not going to give up on… I would say over the last few years we’ve made tremendous progress. It is not solved, but the odor in Santa Barbara, if there was a scale of one to 10, if it was a seven before, it’s like a two now. We’ve made big progress. It’s unfortunate that it hasn’t gone faster, but it’s not because of lack of caring, lack of investment or lack of effort.

Q. What are you doing right now to deal with this particular ‘aromatic’ issue?

GF: I think we’re to the point where there are very few people who have any true issues with odor. I’ve brought in consultants to talk about odor distribution. We just took air samplings, where you take an odor sample in a mylar bag, vacuum-seal it, and shipped it to Chicago where there are people whose job it is to assess odors within an air sample. It’s not like, ‘We smell cannabis.’ It’s like, ‘Here’s some air, quantify it, [quantify how strong the odor is]. So we’re doing samples and we’re assessing them. We’re doing all this kind of research trying to hone in on what’s the real issue, what really bothers people and what can we do most effectively. There’s tons of interesting science. We’ve even got new carbon filtration testing going in. In a warehouse or processing facility it’s not that hard: closed areas, limited volumes, carbon filtration with lots of recirculation. That does a pretty good job. We’ve been trying to figure out ways without ruining all the other good things just to tackle that issue that is truly bothersome to 1% of the people.The odor issue is totally solvable. There’s nothing about it that is inherently unable to be reconciled. The other piece is enforcement and applying the rules that have already been created, and that comes with the issuance of the permits, which brings those rules to bear on the operator. I think it’s knowledge, research, investment, enforcement – those four things when applied to the industry will solve the aversion.

The Farmacy
Farrar and his crew at The Farmacy at 128 W. Mission St. in Santa Barbara

Q. What is your long-term outlook for resisting the resistance to cannabis growing and cultivation in Santa Barbara County?

GF: The adage I like is that ‘the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.’ We have 42 out of 50 states that have some form of legal cannabis access. So the future’s here, but not everybody agrees with that yet. For example, we have a project we’re working on to build basically a drying and trimming facility. We call it processing, but that kind of conjures up a factory which it’s not. This is a place where you bring freshly harvested plants in to special rooms, insulated, climate-controlled, to dry them out in a controlled way. Then it would go to people who trim the buds basically, then package them in to be sent off to be put in our Glass House Farms jars, and one of the people in our community appealed the project. It’s well within the footprint size and has nothing to do with anything. Her opening paragraph says the cannabis farmers have turned Carpinteria in a narco-state. She grew up in Mexico, and in Mexico they had tunnels with drugs moving through them. That was just the modern Democratic version of her liking, her vision of it. Narco-state means failed governments, bodies hanging from the freeway overpasses, kidnappings… I think the worst thing you can find in Carpinteria, driving around long enough you might catch a whiff of something that smells a bit like cannabis. It might make you smile or not care or frown. If that’s a narco-state, I have no idea what isn’t.

Q. Has anyone ever suggested all parties press the pause button, take a puff and think things over again?

GF: Certainly it’s been said multiple times. Maybe everyone should step back a minute, try the product and realize those [nuisance lawsuits] are a waste of time and energy. Again, I’m biased, of course. [Consider] the amount of time, energy and money that goes into trying to hold us back, rather than saying ‘how can this benefit us.’ We’re currently on track to raise $22 million in new tax revenues for Santa Barbara County, just from the cannabis cultivation that exists right now. That’s a lot of money, especially a lot of money for a town which is mostly a tourist service industry. Our cannabis revenues are doubling quarter over quarter. We ourselves hired 175 people in 2020, didn’t lay anybody off, hired more people. That’s groceries, jobs, rent, all the things that keep the economy rolling.

Q. Is it that these folks think that cannabis is just going to go away, and you with it, if they just hang in there long enough?

GF: CARP [members of the cannabis farmers organization] are paying $200,000 in taxes on profits and growing fees, doing all these cool things [in the local community], helping to fund a theme park, and we have these people who are so upset about it. They’re costing more hundreds of thousands of dollars [in legal fees and rising costs over lost time] with absolutely nothing to show for it. My brain can’t comprehend why that would be more compelling and smarter to file than putting this energy behind [benefiting from it]. Your appeal is going to cost us $200,000. How about this: We about commit the money: tell us what you want us to do. We’ll research it and implement the systems. We’ll spend the money. I know it hurts, but it’s better than spending $200,000 and [losing] six months. We might have something constructive at the end which would solve this problem. [But] they say no because they don’t want the odor problem solved, they want cannabis gone. Working constructively with the people doesn’t get that specific result. Do I care about [working on] odor? Yes, that’s what I want to do. Do I care about eliminating marijuana? I say no (and they say), ‘We just want to make it so painful that we hope you go away.’ It’s totally blown me away. I’m a pretty optimistic person. I kind of always thought the people opposed to cannabis just didn’t have the information. I thought once you provided the information, that would be enough…

Hey, six years in Colorado… People aren’t doing more drugs. As a matter of fact, they’re doing less drugs. There’s been a 27% decline in opiate prescriptions after states legalize cannabis, and Canada just reaffimed that. They just did a study that shows the exact same thing. I always assume most people have that information. (They should say), ‘There, ah, I was mistaken! I don’t want to hold on to my opinion, I want to be correct, I want to be right, I want to be correct. Your information, your opinion won’t change my mind.’

Q. Will continued restrictions result in less availability and higher prices for consumers?

GF: It’s basic economic principles. We’ve lost revenue on many things and we’ve haven’t gotten price relief from the consumer on pricing. If we start with the fact that cannabis really came out of compassion, medical and health, and helping lots of people who, by technical definition, are not huge cannabis [investors], and while we’ve legalized it and opened it up, the regulation and taxes put on it has made the price higher. It’s the reason that two-thirds of the California cannabis market is still illegal. On the retail side, if we sell something on the shelf for $50, half of that $50 is tax. That means it cost twice as much as it needs to be. A big chunk of that is all these things. When you have an appeal, that money has to come from somewhere – when you have all these regulations, when you have all these permits, when you have to pay licensing fees to the state, all that stuff gets buried in the price, and the restrictions on cultivation expansion means lower supply which means higher prices, and the customer feels the brunt of it. It all goes back to, if you believe the world is a better place with cannabis, you want to help make it succeed. Or, if you think cannabis is a moral scourge, you believe in fighting against it, making the price higher, making it less available, I think there’s an impact involved in that.

Q. When do you think things will get to a point where the industry is working efficiently and thriving and cannabis products are more affordable for the average consumer?

GF: I think the pendulum is swinging. The pendulum swung way over from the Nancy Reagan kind of days. To this day, though, we see the remnants of that. Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act [describes cannabis as having] no known medical benefits and high potential for abuse. Cocaine is not Schedule 1. Alcohol, cigarettes, they’re not even scheduled. The fact that we’ve said that cannabis has no known medical benefits… We have certified drugs derived from the cannabis plant. We can talk that out. High potential for abuse? You can toss that out. We have collectively 50 years [of experience and research] across the states of legal cannabis – we’d know if there were studies that have shown more car accidents, more teen usage, lower GPAs in school, more drug use, but you don’t find any… Even in Santa Barbara County where they allow cultivation, we just put in our application for retail in November and probably won’t be open until 2022 [Farrar currently has the only fully permitted farm in the coastal area of Santa Barbara County.] The No. 1 thing they could do right now is to lower taxes because it would bring the price down and allow the business that are working hard to be more efficient. Maybe even most importantly, I think if they lowered the taxes, it would capture more of the market, and with a lower tax rate they’d actually generate more tax revenue, which it would absolutely work for them. I don’t think we need to tax cannabis [like cigarettes] to discourage cannabis. We should tax cannabis and generate the most tax revenue for our society. Allow businesses to operate, to create jobs and thrive in a healthy space. It’s good public policy. I think that will happen next, and I think that will benefit the consumer and the industry, both for government and society in general.

There’s so much bottled up potential in cannabis, it’s just starting to get out there.

Graham Farrar