What is a Co-op?
“A cooperative (coop) or co-operative (co-op) is an autonomous association of people who voluntarily cooperate for their mutual social, economic and cultural benefit.” (Source: Wikipedia)
There are 5 types of Co-ops
- Consumer: owned by consumers who buy goods or services from their cooperative.
- Producer: owned by producers of commodities or crafts who have joined forces to process and market their products.
- Worker: owned and democratically governed by employees who become co-op members.
- Purchasing: owned by independent businesses or municipalities to improve their purchasing power.
- Hybrid: a combination of co-op types, where people with common interests band together.
Cannabis is making a transition to regulation that will be difficult for small farms; agricultural cooperatives of farmers will be essential for their survival. Cooperatives should also be used to support patient-purchasing groups and worker-groups that generate farm-ownership for their members over time.
Young people are transitioning from farm workers into cannabis farm owners, and they are a strong force in the transfer of knowledge and productivity between generations of cultivators. This must be maintained under a regulated system; cooperatives provide these linkages.
Standards and quality of medicinal cannabis must be established and maintained; patients and farmers will be able to work together under a transparent system. I foresee a bifurcated system in which people who share values are able to cooperate to accomplish shared goals of quality medicine to patients at affordable value that pays farmers because of inefficiencies achieved through cooperative interactions.
The transition to regulation promises to phase out the current collective/cooperative system for medical cannabis; we must phase in the legitimacy of traditional cooperative associations at the same time.
Stay Decentralized, California
There is an existing, decentralized cannabis production system in California. We need to maintain the existing farms, not bring on new cultivation. There is plenty of production, there just haven’t been appropriate legal channels provided for that production to make it into the hands of willing consumers.
Decentralized production is a cornerstone foundation to the quality of California Cannabis. Wine, with a twist; each neighborhood has unique, artisanal strains (varietals) accented by the specialized terroir of an infinite range of microclimates. It’s the Captain Planet analogy; each farm is a unique microcosm of the larger whole that supports the human-cannabis relationship.
Each farmer maintains a unique relationship with the plant, and I would wager that there are many more kinds of cannabis than there are farmers. Farmers cultivate different strains for different medicinal purposes in different soils with different techniques. Sifting the genetics and methodologies to figure out which profiles work for patients and how to cultivate them is foundational efficacy research that must be supported and conducted through onsite laboratory relationships with cooperatives.
“Increasing efficiency” is the blade that has been used to slice small farms from the fabric of our rural countryside, so it is with caution that I propose an argument for the need to increase efficiencies on small farms. We must maintain decentralized production, but centralized processing options in Farmer-Owned Cooperative Centers would yield gains in quality, tracking, traceability, and the stability of year-round jobs that benefit the community.
What services could co-ops provide to farmers?
What could farmers work together to do with more efficiency? Cooperatives provide assistance in all manner of areas to all manner of people and business entities. This is a delicate subject with cannabis because we still have two full years before the regulation takes effect. This means that for the time being, cooperatives can engage in market development and support services, but touching product or engaging in transactions will remain tricky.
Farmers need help jumping through the hoops of compliance; cooperatives will help us navigate the journey together. The worry with Distributor Systems is that small farms won’t produce enough product to generate a market-share worth putting us on the shelves. Cooperatives are the resounding answer to this question, generating enough quantity from unique farms sharing an overall brand.
The coop would serve as the clearinghouse for buyers. Instead of having to drive to the individual farms, buyers could go to the coop and make their purchases, which could be discussed and detailed via legal phone and email conversations. Communication and currency movement efficiencies that have not been available because of Prohibition would serve Cooperatives very well.
My next proposition may seem outlandish, and I offer it for discussion: Centralized Processing. I have come to believe that it could provide the balance between a hyper-regulated California business environment and the small farms of rural California. Read the next segment on Centralized Processing and the co-op system.