Envisioning a California Cannabis Conference

Substitute words like cannabis, growers, farms, greenhouses, concentrates and edibles for the alcohol references in strikethrough in this passage from the program for the 26th annual Envisioning California Conference that convened Friday in Sacramento:

California is an internationally recognized leader in the production of wine and beer. Increasingly, these industries have embraced a think-small ethos evident in a diverse range of micro breweries and artisanal wineries. Along the way, California has confronted a number of policy challenges in terms of land use, business models and regulation, trade, environmental impacts, and other issues. As a follow-up to the 2013 Food for Thought conference, this Envisioning conference will explore recent trends in brewing and winemaking in California, examine current policy implications, and consider possible future developments in the industry. It will also provide an opportunity to talk directly with California winemakers and brewers, to sample their products, and join a broader conversation about California’s liquid gold.

They called this year’s conference “California’s Liquid Gold: Brewing & Winemaking in the Golden State.” With two edits, we have my proposed theme for the 27th annual Envisioning California Conference — “California’s Gold: Cannabis in the Golden State” — hopefully convening in October 2016 .

Founded by the Center for California Studies at California State University Sacramento in 1989, Envisioning California Conferences explore broad vistas of the California experience, using politics, ethnicity, history, arts, education and the environment to question what defines California, who Californians are and where California is going. Themes in recent  years included food, sustainability, transportation, immigration and technology.

ENVISIONCACONFPANELSCREENGRABExcept for the specific topics of beer and wine, Envisioning California’s panel discussions at Sacramento’s Central Public Library on Friday could have been those very discussions taking place at high-ticket conferences serving the cannabis industry at hotel ballrooms and convention centers in San Francisco, Portland, Denver, Chicago and Las Vegas:

  • making a business out of a once-prohibited craft;
  • women, and their influence, in the industry;
  • water conservation and sustainability;
  • ingredients for a lifestyle;
  • and the history of intoxicants.

Rooted in the Golden State’s legacy and ubiquitous in the present, cannabis is squarely in California’s future, whether it’s in the form of a regulated and taxed medical cannabis framework or in the form of a fully legalized, regulated and taxed adult-use recreational marketplace. California could get approval for the former in the next eight days; the latter may be decided by voters in November 2016.

I wasn’t able to attend this year’s conference. (I attended the 2013 food-focused conference.) The panel that caught my attention was the one titled “Beer and Wine as Ingredients for the California Lifestyle.” I almost spit out the coffee I was enjoying with my cannabis. Imagine such a panel exploring “Cannabis as an Ingredient for the California Lifestyle.” Insert stoner cliche here. I’m pretty sure the name “Beer and Wine as Ingredients for the California Lifestyle” alone resonated with people who drink in pursuit of the leisure and luxury worthy of the most explicit Sunset magazine lifestyle porn.


Craft beer has become something of an infatuation at the Capitol. Gov. Jerry Brown sure seems to enjoy a hoppy pint. When he signed a bill in 2013 authorizing craft breweries to sell beer in to-go containers called growlers, the governor did so at a popular Sacramento brewery and tweeted, “Carpe Cervisiam!”

Do you think the governor, who’s already snarked about a stoned workforce’s impact on California’s productivity, would stage a dog-and-pony show at a dispensary to sign the three historic medical cannabis bills currently awaiting his signature? Would @JerryBrownGov then tweet, “Carpe Cannabis!”?

Meanwhile, SB530 awaits the governor’s signature. Authored by Sacramento Democrat Sen. Richard Pan, a medical doctor hero in the fight for mandatory childhood vaccinations but a legislator who completely botched a 2013 bill that was later recalled after stirring controversy among bars and restaurants for mandatory glove requirements that defied practicality and ignored food safety procedures already in place, SB530 would allow drinking aboard pedal-powered vehicles that ferry patrons on public streets among multiple bars and breweries in the course of an outing.

Never mind that the California Vehicle Code prohibits riding bicycles under the influence of alcohol or that residents in the areas where contraptions like Brew Bike travel complain about the noise currently generated by inebriated parties of pedalers. Meanwhile, it’s illegal to smoke or vape even medical cannabis in a moving three-wheeled pedicab, even the one in downtown Sacramento that’s sponsored by the dispensary All About Wellness.


Last week, the west steps of the Capitol once again was the site of Legends of Wine, a red-white-and-bubbly toast to Sacramento’s “Farm-to-Fork Capital of America” civic branding campaign. A week earlier, four blocks of the vehicle mall leading to the Capitol were cordoned off for a festival featuring 150 breweries serving beer in the street.

Sacramento has yet to host a cannabis event that did not reek of grassroots.

Back to the Envisioning California Conference. The lineup of panelists Friday included brewers, winemakers, regulators, marketers, academics, a hop farmer, a historian, a journalist and more.

Sacramento State’s Center for California Studies would have no trouble assembling panelists for my proposed  27th annual Envisioning California Conference — “California’s Gold: Cannabis in the Golden State.” Start with any of the academics and activists who worked on Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, and of, course,  Newsom himself. The University of California is chock-full of agriculture and medical experts. California is home to world-renowned dispensary Harborside Health Center and leading testing labs. California cannabis growers literally planted the seeds of an industry.

Envisioning California’s organizers could even invite guests who have participated in past conferences, like Karen Ross, the state’s Secretary of Food and Agriculture, whose department will assume some oversight of what’s estimated to be California’s most valuable crop next year if Gov. Jerry Brown signs cannabis regulations within the next week. The former president of California Association of Wine Grape Growers, Ross knows about regulating and marketing an intoxicating substance in the Golden State.

Sacramento State has one obvious panelist at hand. The university recently picked a history of California cannabis — “Weed Land” by CSUS alum and Sacramento Bee reporter Peter Hecht — for its “One Book” reading program. Hecht will speak at CSUS on “One Book” author day on Thursday.

There’s one thing I would not emulate:

The night before “California’s Liquid Gold: Brewing & Winemaking in the Golden Stat,” Envisioning California Conference organizers promoted a bar crawl in Old Sacramento, the state park remodeled to resemble the city in its formative years. For $15, attendees were invited to “learn fascinating tidbits about the people and events that shaped the city’s early history as one of the ‘wettest cities in the union’ during this pivotal ear in American history. At each stop you can grab a prohibition-era cocktail or beer while you ponder Sactown’s rich history and dirty little secrets.”

Imagine a tour of cannabis dispensaries and vapor lounges promoted with similar jejune joy. You’d call me names like Cheech and Chong.

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