Let Sonoma hashish develop like a weed

We’ve seen what happens when global conglomerates take over businesses that used to be local and it’s rarely good. Staying local has never been more important as we witness mergers and acquisitions in everything from breweries to restaurants to grocery stores to retail outlets and pharmacies, losing special qualities of life and regional characteristics with each change.

But one thing has always remained, the quality of Sonoma’s agriculture. Where once we grew vast quantities of wheat and barley, as well as hops, corn, flax, and cotton — today our land is renowned for the quality of its wine grapes and the talent of its vintners, and rightly so. Soon, I predict it will also be renowned for the quality of our cannabis.

As a former winemaker I am proud to see that Sonoma is producing some of the best wines anywhere in the world. And as a certified Sonoma Valley biodynamic medicinal herb and cannabis grower, I am in awe that now we have some of the finest sun-grown flowers anywhere in California. And maybe best of all it’s now available here in Sonoma at SPARC.

Having a high-end dispensary like SPARC be the first in our Valley is special to me because SPARC is truly rooted deeply here in our community, first as farmers then as a retailer customized to our needs. SPARC owner Erich Pearson made Glen Ellen his home three years ago, undaunted by the fires that nearly wiped him and us off the map forever! Like me, Erich is a certified biodynamic farmer who cares about every aspect of his farm from the sun, the soil and the team of workers who farm it. That speaks of Life and it speaks of Terroir, a subject as vast and fascinating in cannabis as it is in wine.

I would argue that the quality of our Sonoma Valley cannabis equals our wine, and I’m glad of it. It may help to keep our businesses afloat. Younger generations are looking for new experiences and wine drinking has less glamor for them than it does for older visitors. Cannabis that’s grown here, sold here and consumed here offers the opportunity to tell an exciting new story about the Sonoma Valley, one that’s been hidden in the shadows for more than 50 years as growers kept their stashes secret for fear of arrest.

By opening a retail outlet here that features cannabis grown in this Valley as well as products from other Sonoma County entrepreneurs like Garden Society and CannaCraft, SPARC has started a new chapter for our community. It provides access to medicine for those suffering from nausea and pain; it provides relief to those of us troubled by anxiety; and it’s going to start a new conversation with our Valley and our visitors. Cannabis that’s grown here and enjoyed here is bringing new opportunities here.

Every generation makes its own impact on our land and I look forward to the near future when we establish cannabis appellations in Sonoma Valley to protect that crop just as we do our wine grapes. Enacted this January, the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s appellation project is just getting started. Once it’s fully underway, it will allow the cannabis grown on my land and Erich’s land and frankly, in hundreds of other small cannabis gardens across the Valley to be exalted and protected just as we do our wine, France does its Champagne, and Italy its Parmigiano-Reggiano.

With our first local dispensary now under operation, local agriculture continues to drive our economy, entice our visitors, and support our families. Let’s hope it continues to grow like a weed.

Mike Benziger is the founder of Glentucky Family Farm, a biodynamic medical cannabis operation located in Glen Ellen.