Article by Rachel LaFranchi
Published March 1, 2016
Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Water Committee met on February 10 to discuss impending regulations on Medical Marijuana (AB 243, AB 266 and SB 643).
Committee panelists included Pat Rutten, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Matt St. John, Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB); Tony Linegar, Ag Commissioner; Devon Jones, Executive Director, Mendocino County Farm Bureau; Julia Carrera, Inspector, Small Farmers Association; and Tito Sasaki, Moderator, SCFB.
The new state law now mandates that each county develop and adopt ordinances for licensing and land use. The law requires cultivators have a license from the local level before applying for a state license – the state plans to start issuing licenses for medical marijuana growers by January 1, 2018, according to Carrera.
Jones said Mendocino County is working on revising the existing county medical marijuana ordinance and their board of supervisors should have a draft available in March.
Linegar said Sonoma County has just started on developing a local level ordinance. He said California Department of Food and Ag will also be rolling medical marijuana into their existing regulation structure for other crops as directed by law.
Rutten pointed out that medical marijuana, from the Federal viewpoint, is still an illegal drug. He said the NOAA will be following the clean water act and endangered species act when looking into environmental violations related to medical marijuana.
The North Coast RWQCB is not endorsing the cultivation of marijuana, according to St. John; however, they are beginning to regulate water quality waste discharge related to marijuana production. They are issuing conditional waivers for waste discharge, and any person cultivating on private property larger than 2,000 sq ft must have one. Their program is not specific to medicinal plants.
The system for waivers is tiered:
- Tier 1: Less than 5,000 sq ft. Fee: $1,000
- Tier 2: Greater than 5,000 sq ft. This tier needs a site specific water management plan. Fee: $2,500
- Tier 3: High risk tier. For larger operations already having environmental damage. Fee: $10,000.
At the meeting, St. John said they had 30 people signed up with waivers, but they anticipated to have more after their February 15 deadline following additional compliance correspondence from the North Coast RWQCB. In contrast, it was suggested during the meeting there may be upwards of 20,000 marijuana producers in Mendocino County alone.
Carrera said cultivators, while wanting to be regulated, the high fees of regulation being proposed by different regulators is causing some to leave the industry.
Carrera said that California may be facing a ballot initiative for the upcoming November elections. There are currently three possible initiatives; however, it is unclear which ones will have enough funding to progress through the qualification process.
Currently, neither California Farm Bureau Federation nor Sonoma County Farm Bureau has written policies on marijuana cultivation. Sasaki, however, stated that as long as it is has been deemed a legal agricultural activity, we should help the industry to grow into a responsible member of the agricultural community.
For more information on the North Coast RQWQB program, please visit www.waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast/water_issues/programs/cannabis/.