California cannabis farmers express concerns at regulatory hearings
The Department of Food and Agriculture has been charged with regulating the state’s estimated 50,000 cannabis cultivators
May 17, 2017
Limits on farm sizes, renewable energy mandates and a lack of clarity on rules for tribal lands were among the concerns raised by 100 or so cannabis cultivators who gathered Tuesday at a community center in Santa Ana.
The hearing, hosted by the Department of Food and Agriculture, was the first of 14 that will be held across California over the next month as state officials gather feedback from the public on proposed regulations for the medical marijuana industry.
Regulations were mandated — for the first time since marijuana as medicine became legal in California more than 20 years ago — by a trio of 2015 bills known as the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. The act created the Bureau of Marijuana Control, charging the new agency with establishing and enforcing rules for cannabis retailers, distributors, transporters and testers by Jan. 1, 2018.
The Department of Public Health was tasked with creating rules for manufacturers, such as companies that make edibles and concentrates. And the Department of Food and Agriculture was charged with regulating the state’s estimated 50,000 cannabis cultivators.
The agriculture department on April 28 published a 58-page document that’s been in the works for more than a year with draft rules and licensing requirements for growers. The public had 45 days from then, or until June 12, to offer feedback in writing or at one of four scheduled hearings before the proposed regulations become law.
At Tuesday’s hearing in Santa Ana, consultant Patrick Rohde said clients he work with generally see the proposed rules, fees and fines as reasonable.
The draft rules call for nonrefundable application fees for one of 11 license types available. Fees start at $60 for a nursery, which grows immature plants for sale to cultivators, and max out at $4,260 for a medium indoor grow, which can be up to 22,000 square feet of grow space. Annual license fees range from $560 to $38,350.
Fines for breaking the rules would start at $100 for minor offenses such as failing to promptly notify state officials of changes to the grow site and range up to $30,000 fines for serious offenses such as failing to maintain proper records. The regulations say the state could also suspend or revoke a license for any serious offense, with a hearing process spelled out.
Jesse Ortega with Emerald Care Consulting said one issue he wants to see the state address is who has authority over grows on tribal lands. He said tribes he works with in Riverside County aren’t sure whether they need permission from their county to grow on sovereign lands or if they just need a state license.
“There are no clear provisions or guidance on how tribes can partake in the industry,” he said.
Several speakers raised concerns over a proposed rule that says they’d have to use at least 42 percent renewable energy, with one cultivator asking whether they can have time to work up to that amount.
A ramp-up window isn’t permitted in the draft rules. But businesses would get a six-month grace period, during which anyone operating by Jan. 2, 2018 could continue to operate until July 2, 2018 if they’ve applied for a license and not been turned down.
Aspiring growers would have to provide a long list of background information when they apply, including proof that the site is at least 600 feet from any schools, that they have permission from the property owner if they’re renting and that they’re in good standing with their local government. And they’d have to submit a detailed cultivation plan, diagram of the proposed grow site, list of pesticides they plan to use and more.
Some speakers at the hearing asked for clarity on what pesticides they can use, how the proposed system to track all plants will work and how cannabis will be transported from their farms to retailers and manufacturers.
State officials didn’t respond to any questions during the hearing. But they recorded the feedback. And Amber Morris, branch chief for the agriculture department’s new CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing division, said they’re obligated to review every comment and take them into consideration as they draft final regulations.
There are three more hearings on cultivation coming in Central and Northern California, with the next one Thursday in Visalia. Those hearings — particularly the one in Ukiah — are expected to be more heavily dominated by outdoor cultivators, since Southern California cities have generally banned outdoor grows in favor of nondescript warehouses and greenhouses.
There are also hearings soon in Los Angeles, San Diego and other parts of the state to discuss regulations for shops, edibles makers, testers and more.
The goal is to finalize those medical marijuana regulations over the summer and use them as the basis for recreational cannabis rules due out this fall. Both are set to kick in Jan. 1.