California’s multibillion-dollar marijuana industry, by far the nation’s largest, is crawling out from the underbrush after voters opted to legalize cannabis in this month’s election. In Sonoma County alone, an estimated 9,000 marijuana cultivation businesses are operating in a provisional gray market, with few specific regulations, and are now looking to follow the path of the wine industry, which emerged from its own prohibition eight decades ago and rose to the global prominence it enjoys today.

But the bruising ordeals of one of the state’s largest cannabis companies, CannaCraft, have made many in the marijuana industry fearful, and they suggest a long and bumpy road from marijuana’s approval at the ballot box to the same on-the-ground acceptance enjoyed by wine and beer businesses.

CannaCraft produces medical marijuana products, which have been legal in the state for two decades, but operated in a kind of Wild West, unregulated market. In June, the company’s newly opened headquarters was raided by federal and local law enforcement officers, who said the process it used to make marijuana products was dangerous and illegal. The agents seized $5 million in equipment, inventory and cash. This year, company drivers have twice been stopped by the California Highway Patrol, and, in one case, 1,600 pounds of marijuana was seized.

The business’s troubles may be a sign of things to come after the drug’s broader legalization, as medical cannabis companies like CannaCraft continue to be whipsawed by the lack of clear state regulations and the glaring contradiction between a federal ban on marijuana and still-evolving state laws that should, in theory, shelter the companies from prosecution. Cannabis enterprises deal almost exclusively in cash because banks, fearing federal consequences, will not take their business.

“They are asking people to come out into the open, but there’s this mistrust,” said Dennis Hunter, 43, a founder of CannaCraft who has spent his entire adult life as a marijuana farmer. Mr. Hunter has been arrested three times, and he was sentenced in 2005 to six and a half years in federal prison for growing marijuana and fleeing during a raid.

“You are basically hiding for 20 years, and then you swing the doors wide open. It’s a risk,” he said. “And there’s no clear path.”

The national election threatens an informal, fragile truce between states that have legalized the drug and the federal government. President-elect Donald J. Trump’s proposed choice of Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama to serve as attorney general has roiled the cannabis industry because of comments the Republican senator has made about the drug. At a Senate hearing in April, Mr. Sessions described marijuana as a “very real danger.”

“We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized,” Mr. Sessions said at the hearing. Cannabis advocates believe that, during a Trump presidency, the Drug Enforcement Administration would reinforce its hard-line stance on marijuana. In August, the federal agency reaffirmed the status of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the most dangerous class of drugs, which also includes heroin.

Thousands of cannabis companies in California are now weighing whether they should register with local governments, pay local taxes and be regulated like all other businesses, or continue to operate in the gray market.

The plight of CannaCraft, which despite the June raid has had sales of $10 million so far this year, has been closely watched by other companies in the marijuana business here because of the way the company began openly courting state and local lawmakers and applying for licenses like any other business.

This year, the company moved into offices in a corporate park in Santa Rosa that were once occupied by a company that manufactured heart stents, and it obtained a business tax license as a cannabis company and permission to operate agricultural processing machinery.


This article was written by  and you can read the full article on The New York Times here: