A combination of three different proposed bills, the legislation is lengthy and intended to improve the regulatory structure of specifically medical cannabis production, distribution, and sale within the state. The bill reclassifies cannabis as an agricultural crop regulated primarily under the Department of Food & Agriculture, but includes coordination with a range of state agencies in the new guidelines.
Ad Hoc Committee Reflects on Cannabis Legislations
The governor has until October 11 to sign or request alterations to the bill, and if it is approved, various agencies and the newly created “Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation” will begin to determine various specifics and methods of implementation, taking effect in 2017. Many statewide advocacy groups are also in the process of drafting language to create recreational “adult use” initiatives for cannabis legalization, some version of which is widely expected to pass during the November, 2016 elections.
In Mendocino county, local officials and cultivator groups have been working to analyze how the pending legislation will impact the local cannabis economy. Estimates have been made that over two thirds of local residents participate in some way in the cannabis industry, and put the number of cultivation sites in the county at more than 10,000. Humboldt County supervisors are working with the advocacy group California Cannabis Voice Humboldt and environmental organizations to develop a Humboldt County ordinance.
Mendocino supervisors Tom Woodhouse and John McCowan, who stand on the county’s Ad Hoc Cannabis Committee, spoke with The Willits News on Wednesday to provide some insight into their plan for assessing the local import of the new legislation.
The supervisors said the most recent ad hoc committee meeting with County CEO Carmel Angelo occurred on Tuesday to begin a preliminary review of the new state legislation. “There are a number of issues which need to be clarified,” said McCowan, and “part of the intention is to work with county staff to identify specific areas that need clarification.”
McCowan said he had heard north coast Assemblyman Jim Wood, an author of one of the three bills included in the new state regulations, planned to introduce “clean-up” legislation in January. In an email from Wood’s office, Paul Ramey said Wood “is certainly interested and willing to take up cleanup language. We won’t be able to nail down specifics until after we see what the governor does and coordinate with the other authors.”
The reclassification of cannabis cultivation from nuisance regulations to an agricultural framework is one regulatory component which many local cannabis producers and advocates have been requesting on local, state, and federal levels with the aim of protecting small farms and the rural producer economy they say is essential to the county’s economy. “This classification gives us a fair shake at seeking equality….farmers don’t lose any constitutional rights, “ said Pebbles Trippet, representative from the Mendocino Cannabis Policy Council (MCPC).
The Classification is Outdated in Every Possible Way
The supervisors said that re-designation presented its own issues that needed clarification. “The California Department of Food & Agriculture has been tasked with numerous new duties, including coordination with various other agencies,” explained McCowan.
Woodhouse said the amongst other county staff, the ad hoc committee had been in contact with Mendocino Agriculture Commissioner Chuck Morse, who had provided a list of specific questions or points of clarification he saw with the new designation.
McCowan said that the ad hoc committee planned to provide a report on its ongoing research during the supervisors’ reports in an upcoming meeting this month, and that the next step was a planned presentation to the supervisors with a legislative advocate, Paul Smith of the Regional Council of Rural Counties. Smith’s presentation is planned for October or November, and the full board will be able to ask questions and discuss the issues.
The ad hoc committee participated in a six-county summit on cannabis issues this spring, which included representatives from Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity, Del Norte, Sonoma, and Lake counties. On May 5 the Mendocino Board of Supervisors adopted the regional policy statement developed in that summit. The policy statement requested the preservation of local county control, right to enact local taxes, environmental protection, and a “chain-of-custody” system that would enable local branding and regional appellations, like those in place for vineyards, and many of these recommendations are included in the new statewide regulations.
Woodhouse said the ad hoc committee planned to reconvene those regional partners to discuss the issues with the new legislation. “It makes sense to go back and meet again,” he said, “ideally we will be in a unified position when we go to the state with clarification.”
McCowan said the committee would meet with full board of supervisors once the ad hoc committee had specific recommendations, and that they were “very intent on making sure we do have a state compliant local program so we can control our own destiny as much as possible, so we don’t have to default to state regulations – we have the support of the CEO on that.” The state regulations provide for a dual system of licensure on both state and local levels, and requires compliance with county ordinances as well as state regulations. Counties can opt out of the regulations or ban cannabis activity as well.
Both supervisors emphasized that they would take as much time as necessary to figure out the issues as best as possible before crafting a county ordinance, which would be done in coordination with the full board and involve public input via open public meetings.
Woodhouse explained that while many local groups had reached out to the supervisors, the committee was not planning on meeting with local stakeholders soon, but that “ we’re gathering information from a variety of sources…anything that anyone wants to send us in writing, feel free.”
McCowan added, “ Different groups can craft whatever they want in terms of initiatives, promote and develop them, but really the board of supes will be crafting the county ordinance.”
Representatives of local cannabis advocacy groups the MCPC and the Emerald Growers Association (now California Growers Association) have expressed their desire to see the supervisors adopt some components of the new state regulations, including the agricultural designation and parts of the liscensing components. Plant counts are another issue that local groups have expressed concern about due to higher allowed numbers in neighboring counties like Sonoma and Humboldt.
Said Trippet, “they need to be conscientious of consulting the people they’ll be regulating, and be aware of the fear and trauma over forty years – there’s a resistance that’s justified. We want regulations that we can believe in, that paint us as stewards of the environment, for water use, using the best practices and organic methods that a lot of us are already doing..there’s a significant number of people that will be regulated or stay in the shadows depending on how welcoming the regulations are.”
Jude Thilman of the MCPC said the group was working on developing two county initiatives, one that one reclassify cannabis cultivation under agriculture, and another to establish an advisory committee. The MCPC proposed a similar initiative this spring for the county but did not gain enough signatures for the upcoming ballot. Thilman said the group would be working in coordination with others to draft ordinances and may present them this month. MCPC’s Trippet said that Joe Rogoway, a Santa Rosa Attorney formerly with the county’s District Attorney’s office and active in cannabis policy, had contacted the group to work on developing a local initiative.
On September 30, raids were conducted in northern Mendocino in the Spy Rock and Bell Springs Road area near Laytonville, with several local residents arrested. Many residents expressed concern over how to demonstrate their desire for compliance while differences in county and state regulations are being worked out and changing regulations lacked local clarifications. Trippet said that while supervisors were still considering a new county policy, cultivators needed to know how to be in compliance and change needed to happen soon: “it’s a lot of busts and lives ruined in the meantime.”