Re-Opened Cannabis Ordinance Nearly Wrapped
by Jim Shields, August 16, 2017
The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors last week) August 8, concluded a month-long series of meetings on cleaning up, tweaking, and amending its three-month-old Cannabis Ordinance.
As has been the case with all things marijuana on the Supes’ agenda, the crowd overflowed the chambers.
The big crowd served as talking point for Sheriff Tom Allman who addressed the Board prior to the start of the session.
Surveying the large gathering, Allman said, “I jokingly say that it’s not the county of marijuana, it’s the County of Mendocino.”
Allman observed that for almost all other county business, including troublesome issues such as deteriorating mental health services, the meeting room is unpopulated by the public. In his opinion, the marijuana topic garners far too much attention compared to other matters that for whatever reason are off the public’s radar screen.
“When we talk about them (other issues), the boardroom’s empty,” he explained.
The sheriff has not been silent on pot matters, though. In addressing the proliferation of ganja, where growers apparently are planting at record levels, he told the Supes at a July meeting, “The free reign of marijuana has to be reeled in.”
Not surprisingly many pot farmers have not reeled themselves in because to-date enforcement, at best, has been almost non-existent.
Back to last week’s meeting.
Here’s some excerpts from Jane Futcher’s report, who covers the marijuana scene for the Mendocino County Observer. As always, Jane’s the best at what she does.
Proposed Changes and Directives:
• The deadline for cultivation permit applications is now June 1, 2018.
• Existing drying sheds will be allowed this year under an agricultural exemption even if the buildings don’t meet Building and Planning Dept. codes for commercial buildings;
• Portable toilets may be substituted for the plumbed toilets the county thought were required by Americans with Disabilities Act standards;
• Proof of a collective agreement with an outlet will not be required;
• Detailed lighting requirements for cultivators and nurseries will be eliminated, provided grow lights do not impact neighbors or the night sky;
• Greenhouses and hoop houses may be given agricultural exemptions after further review;
• Trimming may be allowed in drying sheds after further review;
• The board said no medical cannabis transportation permits would be available this year;
• To incorporate stakeholder input in to the ordinance process and speed it up, the board and County Administrator Carmel Angelo will conduct a weekly conference call with well-informed community cultivators and consultants;
• The board plans to make the Building and Planning Department the “first stop” in the cultivation application process to avoid applicants discovering midway through that they can’t get a permit because their properties don’t comply with zoning and building codes;
• The supervisors also decided to eliminate third-party inspectors from the ordinance because the county has hired six inspectors of its own; and
• A first reading of the revised cultivation ordinance will be held Tues., Aug. 22. A second reading is slated for Aug. 29. Next month, the supervisors will take up the permitting regulations for dispensaries, processors, distributors and manufacturers.
Meanwhile, on the state front, the legalization framework is still under construction.
Earlier this spring, the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Bureau of Cannabis Control, Department of Public Health, and Department of Food and Agriculture released proposed regulations for the state’s cannabis reg package. Public hearings were held and written comments from all the players regarding the proposed regulations were accepted. However, in late June, the Legislature passed and Gov. Brown signed into law, the so-called “Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act,” which created one regulatory system for both medicinal and adult-use cannabis. As a result of that legislation, much of what was being developed by agency rule-making was rendered redundant or not valid due to conflict with the new law.
So now, the three main state cannabis agencies are each developing new proposed regulations based on the new law. They will use the emergency rulemaking process for any new proposed regulations. The emergency regulations are expected to be completed sometime this fall.
This is why I’ve been warning folks here in the county that they won’t have a full understanding of what’s expected of them until the state wraps up its marijuana agenda.
One of the interesting things growing out of these agency rulemaking hearings is an economic report commissioned by the state Dept. of Ag. The economists looked at just how much pot is being grown in California. It was a real eye-opener for me.
The report estimates that approximately 13.5 million pounds of weed is harvested in the Golden State, annually. I’m sure that tonnage has increased dramatically recently, but the study looked at previous years. On the consumption side, it was estimated that only 2.5 million pounds found an end use in the state. Those numbers support other long-held analyses that approximately 80 percent of Cal weed hits interstate highways for sale on the national black market. The Dept. of Ag study also forecasted that about half of the 2.5 million pounds will be sold in California’s black market instead of licensed dispensaries, which means the tax collector will be bypassed.
Information like this has implications — most of them not good — for county moms and pops, who comprise the majority of our estimated 9,000 to 15,000 cannabis farmers. Because of ever-increasing supply, the price of marijuana in the past decade has dipped from the $4,000 to $5,000 per pound range down to approximately $700 per pound currently.
In a recent L.A. Times story featuring Laytonville’s Tim Blake, the founder of the Emerald Cup competition, he weighed in on the changing landscape of marijuana:
Already, Blake said, prices have dropped dramatically. He knows Emerald Triangle farmers who have not been able to sell all of last year’s crop.
The one-time cannabis outlaws of Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino counties either will distinguish themselves with high-end niche products the way some spirits makers have done, or they will vanish like the loggers who were once the lifeblood of this place.
“The best ones will have a chance,” said Blake, who is perfecting an expensive, hash-like concentrate made from a high-quality strain of bud that is frozen in the field as soon as it is harvested. He also has switched some of his fields from standard cultivation — one harvest per year — to a technique called light-deprivation, where plants are covered between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. to trick them into flowering faster.
For a region whose economic stability has grown dependent on the all-cash cannabis industry, things could get ugly.
Indeed they could.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher and also manages the Laytonville County Water District.)