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Outside Media Gets Mendo Weed Woes Wrong (As Usual)

Be sure and check out the SF Chron’s story on weed woes here in Mendoland (“California County’s Cannabis Industry On The Brink Of Irreversible Failure”). It’s another in a long string of articles by outside media that shoots blanks in even coming close to accurately setting out the total failure that is our Pot Ordinance. 

I knew immediately I was about to read a true stinkeroo when the reporter introduced his two primary sources: Michael Katz and Hannah Nelson.

Katz is the paid lobbyist for the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance (MCA), and Nelson is their lawyer.

Both have been actively engaged, along with county bureaucrats and so-called cannabis “working groups,” with the development of the unworkable ordinance, so for them now to criticize the end product is hilarious.

This six-plus year ordinance debacle would make great comedy if not for the fact that our local economies have been wrecked, in large part due to the collaboration of county officials and various self-proclaimed weed experts.

The simple facts are not even straight in the Chron story. For example, “After six years of pot legalization, only 12 of Mendocino County’s 832 active cannabis farms have received annual licenses, according to an SFGATE analysis of county and Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) records. That means only 1% of the county’s cultivators are fully licensed — one of the worst rates in the state.”

That’s not even close to being accurate.

I’ve estimated there are 10,000 to 13,000 active pot farmers in Mendocino County. In the past, Katz and MCA say there are approximately 10,000 growers, so we’re both on the same page.

Based on the MCA estimate, the percentage of “fully licensed” growers is 0.0012%, not 1%. Everyone knows that over 90% of pot farmers have never gone near the county seat and its Weed Ordinance process.

And guess what? They never will because they had this deal figured out from the get-go.

Recently, I commented on Mark Scaramella’s excellent report on “Veg-Mod Hell.”

I also provided brief background on this bewildering issue of the Weed Ordinance’s provision prohibiting the removal of even a single tree for the purpose of cultivating pot, so-called “vegetation modification,” aka “Veg-Mod Hell.”

Here’s an excerpt from a column I wrote six years ago on the topic. 

Back on July 18, 2017, just a couple of months after Supervisors approved the new Cannabis Ordinance, the representatives of two state resource agencies, on their own motion, addressed County officials on potential problems with their pot rules.

The two agencies were CAL FIRE and the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).

From the outset of their remarks, the state resource agencies’ reps pointedly but politely bared their fangs on the County’s problematical environmental review process and the enforcement issue.

CAL FIRE’s Unit Resource Manager Craig Pederson spoke on the lack of enforcement regarding tree removal associated with marijuana cultivation.

“CAL FIRE was satisfied with the final ordinance language which clearly prohibited tree removal” for grow sites, Pederson said.

But, he stated, “In practice we find that not to be the case as conversion of timberland to cultivate marijuana has continued.”

He pointed out that “the number of issues and potential CAL FIRE law enforcement cases are escalating …”

He told the Supes, “CAL FIRE encourages the county to promptly and consistently enforce the cultivation ordinance. The ordinance must be enforced by the county, as lead agency, to ensure responsible agencies’ (such as CAL FIRE) written and verbal concerns are addressed.”

He reminded the Supes that the ordinance created a “zero tolerance for tree removal. It doesn’t allow a single (commercial) tree to be removed for cultivation purposes.”

He told the Supes even CAL FIRE doesn’t have a rule that restrictive, but it’s in your ordinance so you need to enforce it or get rid of it.

Naturally, the Supes did neither.

For over six years, you never heard a pip or a squeak from MCA, their lawyer, or any of the pot “working groups” regarding the insane “single tree removal” provision until its recent morph into “Veg-Mod Hell.”

I’ve always said and I still believe that problems just don’t happen, people make them happen.

That’s the history of weed legalization in this county.

(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher,, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live:


  1. Kirk Vodopals March 3, 2023

    Mr Shields, can you clarify the water analysis requirements for cannabusinesses? It appears that the weed lobby is in a stalemate with the County on how to assess water supply and demand for permitted grows (nevermind the water truck issue). Do you have to obtain a certified pump test of your well for a weed grow (drillers or well completion reports dont suffice)? You do if you want to develop an ADU or a minor subdivision. So why not for a ag-industrial operation that uses significantly more water? AG zoning is exempt, of course.
    I can see why the County is hesitant to hand out permits or grants for fear of lawsuits once folks figure out that the permits violate state water regs.

    • Eli Maddock March 3, 2023

      A few clicks and scrolling reveals:

      1) Watershed Assessment. All Permit applications, except for legal parcels located in the Agricultural (A-G) zoning district, shall demonstrate there is adequate water to serve the cultivation site. (a) If surface water (or groundwater influenced by surface water) will be used, applicants may demonstrate that there is adequate water by providing (i) a watershed assessment that establishes there is sufficient watershed supply to serve the proposed cultivation site and existing uses within the watershed, and (ii) a water right exists to serve the cultivation site. A watershed assessment shall consist of an established “In Stream Flow Policy” as prepared by the State Water Resources Control Board Division of Water Rights or an equivalent document approved by that agency. (b) If groundwater not influenced by surface water will be used, the applicant may demonstrate that there is adequate water by providing a water availability analysis which will address the adequacy of the proposed water supply, the direct effects on adjacent and surrounding water users, and possible cumulative adverse impacts of the development on the water supply within the watershed and show there is a sustained yield to support the proposed level of use. (c) If water will be provided by a mutual water company, municipal or private utility or similar community provider, the applicant may demonstrate that there is adequate water by providing a will serve letter from the proposed provider.

      • Kirk Vodopals March 3, 2023

        Yes, a water availability analysis. But what is that, exactly? Can you just use your well completion report and some hand-waiving analysis by a consultant? If so, that’s not going to cut the real mustard. The only defensible way to determine groundwater well properties is by a certified pump test as outlined in the Mendo County groundwater guidelines under Proof-of-Water test which is ironically not referenced in the weed regs (most likely thanks to the weed lobbyists).

  2. Lazarus March 3, 2023

    “The GGC items included a controversial budget amendment request from the Mendocino Cannabis Department to shift $6.8 million of state grant money away from direct grants for cannabis applicants, and move it to cover increased staffing and contract planner costs.”
    The Willits Weekly

    This tells you everything there is to know about the direction of the so-called Grant Money. The County will steal it all eventually. I believe that has been the plan all along. As always,

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