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For decades, marijuana farmers have kept a low profile, but now it's becoming more socially acceptable. NBC Bay Area's Joe Rosato, Jr. has the story of one Napa Valley farmer.
The Napa Valley is legendary for its rolling vineyards and wine grapes, guided by some of the world’s greenest thumbs.
Crane Carter owns one of those green thumbs. Only he doesn’t grow grapes with it. He grows marijuana.
Carter scampered through the backyard of his St. Helena home, offering a tour of twelve leafy pot plants spilling from their planter boxes. His medicinal bumper crop is legal in the eyes of California under Prop 215.
"This is what they call pink panther here," he said, gingerly tugging on a young green bud. "It’s a few weeks out."
Most marijuana growers prefer to farm from the shadows, but Carter is out there openly advocating for the sale and taxation of medical weed. He founded the Napa Valley Marijuana Growers and dreams of the region becoming as famous for cannabis as it is for cabernet.
"I think we do have a taxable commodity here," Carter said in his rapid-fire speaking style. "It will allow these outside growers to come to the surface and be part of our community.”"
Carter himself has emerged from the pot farming underbelly in bold fashion. Recently, the prestigious Napa County Farm Bureau accepted him as a member. He’s believed one of the first declared marijuana farmer in the country to join such a legitimate body.
"It’s a wonderful feeling to be accepted in that group," he said, pushing back the brim of his floppy wide-brimmed hat. "We don’t have to hide -- we don’t and we won’t."
Carter’s membership folds him into the ranks of the region’s seasoned wine grape growers, dairy farmers and olive producers. While his green message is sure to rankle some members, others believe his mission isn’t so far out.
"We’re looking at agriculture and what agriculture encompasses," said wine grape manager Eric Pooler. "That’s changing, so we’re just kind of flowing with the times."
Pooler was part of the Farm Bureau committee that heard Carter’s pitch and ultimately chose him as a member. Pooler said the decision wasn’t an endorsement of medicinal marijuana – rather the acknowledgement of a legitimate agricultural crop.
"In terms of people who don’t agree with that, I can understand their viewpoints," said Pooler. "But he’s working within the bounds of the law and that’s what we’re looking at."
Carter hopes to use his new pulpit to establish marijuana-growing guidelines for the region – including sustainable techniques that eliminate pollution and pesticides. In the meantime, he peddles t-shirts bearing the logo of his homegrown organization. He also plans to sell his upcoming crop to medical marijuana dispensaries in the Bay Area
A life-long Napa Valley resident, Carter said he bristles whenever he hears someone declare Mendocino or Humboldt County as the “Napa Valley of marijuana growing.” That distinction, he believes, should remain in the Napa Valley.
"They’re not on top of three international airports," he said. "They don’t have the accommodations and what we have for the wine industry already."
Whether the world famous wine-region will ever see pot plants growing alongside chardonnay vineyards is probably a far-off vision. But it’s a vision Carter will be out there preaching, one green bud at a time.