Cannabis “Era” Starts Now

Written By: Tawny Tesconi, Executive Director
Published: May 1, 2018

The cannabis industry and how our community deals with it continues to be front page news. With our local leaders making so many critical decisions related to the fire devastation, it is somewhat mindboggling to think that a plant that has been around for centuries is sharing the limelight. I surmise that the history books (ok history blogs) a century from now will catalog the cannabis “era” as one of the most unsettling periods in our County’s chronicles.

For our county policymakers, it has been nothing short of a nightmare. The lines are blurred. Regardless of whether an elected official supports or opposes cannabis cultivation in our County, that train has left the station, and it has been racing along the track for decades. There are thousands of illegal grows throughout our County and if there is any hope of getting some control around cultivation, it will take significant financial resources. The Board of Supervisors is looking for the monies from cannabis permit fees and sales tax revenues to fund the coffers to provide a robust enforcement and compliance effort around cannabis, but the monies are already falling short of the projections. And although concerns from residents were anticipated, I am not sure anyone expected such strong and sophisticated opposition to almost every proposed cultivation permit application that has been submitted.

For several years, the Farm Bureau board has been watching and commenting on the various ordinances and regulations that are being imposed on the cannabis industry. Farming is already over-regulated, and we do not want to see “regulatory creep” from cannabis to traditional farming. In addition, the Farm Bureau mantra has always been around an owner’s right to freely use their land, albeit lawfully. Given the voters have said “yes” to cannabis commerce in our state, and the local lawmakers have crafted ordinances to define a legal cultivation; we have accepted that this budding (pun intended) industry is here to stay.

Water source monitoring, ADA compliant brick and mortar bathrooms, noise restrictions, and several other land-use regulations are plaguing the cannabis cultivators. Although from the onset, discussions about cannabis purveyors has always centered around keeping out big business and corporate America, the regulatory actions suggest differently. One cultivator shared with me that they had already spent over $1 million dollars in planning and preparing their application for a permit to grow an acre of cannabis. And, from what I have learned, this is not unique.

Your Farm Bureau board is considering an array of guiding principles around the cannabis industry. Many of these principles discourage over regulation of the industry. However, these principles also suggest that the additional setbacks required for cannabis, that are more stringent than for traditional agriculture, are reasonable for public safety. The principles do not suggest we support cannabis, but that there are regulations already on the books for farming that are sufficient to regulate cannabis.

In addition, we believe that the cannabis industry needs to formulate a self-policing program to deal with the “bad apples” that have illegal grows, and most importantly, to shut down those cultivators who are not respecting the environment through bad management practices and disregard for the stewardship practices embraced by agriculture. For the cannabis industry to ever be accepted by a majority, all grows will need to come into compliance, and that cannot be accomplished through government oversight alone. Cannabis advocates, I hope you step up and take care of your own.

Lastly, the Farm Bureau does not want to see land that is being used for food production converted to cannabis. Sonoma County deserves locally grown food. But we concede that adding cannabis cultivation to a traditional farming or ranching operation may be a viable option for some of our members to stay in business. To this end, we support any member’s decision to grow cannabis.

Our membership is divided about the cannabis industry and what Farm Bureau’s position should be. It is our hope that the guiding principles being considered by our board will help navigate us through the next several years as all of us experience this industry.

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