Local Control Of Pot?
by Jim Shields, August 9, 2017
I think a lot of us who were players to one degree or another in this ever-evolving new marijuana world came into it with our eyes wide shut when it came to local control.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. The idea was to let the people who are literally on the ground —that would be Ground Zero here in Mendocino County — build the legalization framework for marijuana. Who would know better how to get that job accomplished than the boards of supervisors, city councils, growers, folks like me with a local water agency, or those businesses that supply all the necessary things to sustain the marijuana industry. In many ways it was just local folks trying to figure out how to make this whole thing work.
I’ve always believed that the test of any theory is never in the abstract but in its practical application. And when you test the theory of locally developed marijuana rules and regulation, it doesn’t appear to be working.
Of course, it’s still early in the game, but the trending is not encouraging.
A couple of things to keep in mind.
I’ve always said there is no one in this county in either the private or public sector who doesn’t benefit directly or indirectly from pot. I’m a good example of that dictum.
I own a private sector business, this newspaper. A certain percentage of Observer revenues are pot dollars. That’s undeniable.
I’m also the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, which is a local governmental agency, clearly part of the public sector.
A certain portion of District income is derived from the pot industry. For example, approximately 65 to 70 percent of our customers grow marijuana. The water district also provides water — via water trucks — to people who live outside district boundaries. Those sales amount annually to approximately one-third of our income. We know that a lot of that water is used for pot cultivation. As a public policy consideration, the effect of those water exports is that growers using our water are not illegally diverting water from watersheds. But it goes without saying the Laytonville Water District makes good money from exporting water used for growing ganja.
Marijuana production is the number one economic endeavor in Mendocino County. Unofficial estimated total pot revenues range from $700 million up to a billion dollars, annually in this county.
Here’s something else you need to understand.
I’ve always told people who have supported the legalization of pot, be careful of what you wish for. Because with legalization comes regulation, laws, ordinances, taxes, regulatory scrutiny, codes, agency inspection and, of course, law enforcement.
You don’t get one without the other.
2015’s Med-Pot legalization was living proof of this. The new state law reflects all of the components of the legalization-regulation equation. It’s why the legalization of Med-Pot was near unanimous in its support by Republican and Democratic legislators, all the interest groups, and the public. All reasonable folks understand that legalization of pot comes joined at the hip with regulation. That’s because without a well-regulated framework of laws, rules, and procedures, you’re left with chaos, or something very close to it.
The Mendocino County marijuana ordinance approved May 4th, is currently re-opened for amendment because the sailing has been anything but smooth since its inception.
Growers have a long list of alleged grievances that they want resolved. The list includes everything from regulatory overreach (Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, property line setbacks, road easement challenges, tree removal and grading restrictions) and complaints of tax and fee gouging, rigid planning and building requirements, lengthy and complicated permit application process, etc.
The county is under fire from all quarters, including state resource agencies for lax or non-existent enforcement of its ordinance.
Permeating the whole process is the fear of many “mom and pop” growers that their economic survival is threatened by a local ordinance that seems to favor well-heeled big growers.
The permit application process is moving at a glacial pace with just a paltry 673 individuals attempting to come into compliance, with only a handful actually being issued permits. How many growers are there? Good question. Estimates range from 9,000 to 15,000 or more. But no one knows for sure.
The county just doesn’t appear to have the appropriate resources or funding to administer and enforce its ordinance.
It’s one of the main reasons the Supes approved extending the original deadline to apply for a permit from December 31, 2017 to June 30, 2018.
This may be an example of one case where local control is not the best answer.
It’s beginning to appear that perhaps the state should have retained sole control of the marijuana legalization process. With counties and cities creating stand-alone ordinances, there is no uniformity or consistency to a statewide law that legalizes marijuana.
As I said earlier, without a well-regulated framework of laws, rules, and procedures, you’re left with chaos, or something very close to it.
We’ll continue this discussion next week.
State Water Board Making Cannabis Water Regulations
My main jurisdictional boss at the Laytonville County Water District is the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board), and let me tell you they’ve been pretty busy the last couple of months creating proposed regulations and making public policy on water and its use in cannabis cultivation.
On the ganja front, the Water Board has begun a public review period for proposed regs to beef up surface and groundwater sources from contamination caused by legal cannabis farming. I’ve been warning local cannabis farmers, who aren’t happy with Mendocino County pot rules, not to forget that the state is still in the process of rolling out its regulatory framework. They may be in for a surprise when the whole package is finalized later this year.
In a nutshell, the State Water Board is developing and will implement new regulations and programs to address potential water quality and quantity issues related to cannabis cultivation. Their approach is obviously influenced and shaped by the not-so-friendly watershed practices of too many cultivators.
“We have anecdotal stories and evidence of just buckets of stuff just being dumped into streams killing fish, poisoning the water,” stated Water Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus. “The illegal cannabis issue has been a huge one that our enforcement efforts have grown on, and now as cannabis is legalized with more people coming into the fold the expectation is they are going to meet the same rules or even stricter rules.”
The proposed regulations will also nail down the permitting process for marijuana farms and enforcement of waste discharged violations.
Aside from public comment on the proposed new regs, which the Water Board will continue to receive through September 6th, they are also scrutinizing a 214-page staff report, as well as a 117-page proposed “Cannabis Cultivation Policy” where the core of a new regulatory framework is found.
If approved, the new state regulations would take effect in November.
“What we are trying to do is do a regulation that can deal with the scale of applications we're going to be getting in a reasonable amount of time,” Marcus said, "that will adequately protect water quality, will adequately protect water rights and will create a level playing field for all the folks who've been complying with all of our other rules for so many years, so its a massive undertaking.”
Keep in mind that state legislation legalizing marijuana requires the State Water Resources Control Board, in consultation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, to adopt principles and guidelines for diversion and use of water for cannabis cultivation. It’s a pretty broad mandate. Also, legislation requires an applicant for a license for indoor or outdoor cultivation to identify the source of water supply they plan to use. Already, some long-time cultivators are discovering that water they thought was theirs to use, really isn’t after inspections by state resource agencies.
They are being to sent to the Laytonville Water District so we can provide them with a “will serve” letter stating we will provide them with water (by water trucks), thereby establishing they are using a legal source of water.
The times are changing.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, and also manages the Laytonville County Water District.)