Mike Benziger has grown many things in his life, but not this.
“We’re not growing placebos,” Benziger tells me at Glentucky Family Farm, where his pot patch looks and feels more like a jungle than a garden. It’s challenging to move around plants that press in from two sides and tower overhead.
Before he began growing weed, he grew grapes, made great wine and helped create the Benziger brand. As of August 2020, Mike has the crucial documents from both the State of California and from Sonoma County to cultivate weed legitimately. Hurray!
I sang Mike’s praises at a Sonoma Valley Planning Commission Zoom meeting, which gave him a thumbs-up, and later before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, also via Zoom. A half-dozen others, including Mike’s neighbors, testified, along with cannabis lawyer, Omar Figueroa.
Also on Zoom, Kumail Raza, who works for Sonoma County in the permits department, described Mike’s operation: 50 plants on a 2,400-square-foot parcel, with no plants visible to the public and with no odors that could possibly offend visitors at nearby Jack London State Historic Park. The authorities scrutinized nearly everything about Mike’s Farm. The whole process felt to me like an invasion of privacy.
To grow cannabis legally these days you have to allow the authorities to inspect setbacks from roads and waterways, monitor wind direction, measure use of water and keep an eye on security systems meant to prevent, or to at least mitigate, break-ins and theft.
Supervisor Susan Gorin said that she had visited Glentucky Family Farm and talked to “the applicant” whom she described as “a well-known person in Sonoma Valley.”
Supervisor Shirlee Zane tried to sound like an advocate for employees’ rights and insisted that cannabis workers are habitually