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Coming Into Compliance in Mendocino County

Swami works in the Garden Photo courtesy of Swami Select

Joint Opinions

Coming Into Compliance in Mendocino County

If you had told me just a few years ago that a bunch of hippies from the hills of Mendocino County would be sitting in the board of supervisors chambers debating their fate as cannabis growers, I would have laughed. Yet, that has been our strange fate. Swami and I spend more time these days at political meetings than we do in the garden, but it is all for a very good cause. We are determined to not only save our county from the backwards attitudes of the powers that be, but we intend to promote it as the home of the best cannabis in the world.

After months of waiting for the ad hoc committee — two of our five supervisors who were appointed to figure out how to deal with cannabis in our county — it finally came down to it in mid-April, when they announced that the county would stick to the 25 plants per parcel rule. The populace was outraged that it had taken them months and hours of meetings and conversations with all of us to “figure it out,” and yet they seemed to not have heard a word of it. We complained, and the board decided to have the ad hoc committee look at at it again and report back on May 16 with an “urgency ordinance” if deemed appropriate.

Once again we resumed lengthy discussions with the ad hoc, trying our  best to explain the needs of the farmers for the good of the county. Members of three local activist groups were very involved in this: Mendocino Cannabis Policy Council (MCPC) , California Grower’s Association (CGA) and Small Farmer’s Association (SFA). Swami and I belong to all three of them as each is very distinct and helpful in different ways.

Concurrently, the Heritage Initiative Campaign was being formed. The signature drive had already begun to get an initiative on the November, 2016 ballot that basically brings Mendocino County up to the levels of the MMRSA act, which will come into effect in California in 2018. With an initiative, as opposed to an ordinance, the voters have much more power and the board cannot simply go and change rules on a whim. But for this season coming up right now, we needed something fast or we’d all be criminals, again.

Last Monday, about 100 farmers and stakeholders from the cannabis community gathered to listen as the board held a final discussion about the urgency ordinance and to take a vote on it. The feeling in the room was tense, as the meeting went on and on for over four hours. The actual ordinance was not available for us to read ahead of time and we scrambled to find out what it said so we could effectively make our case against the several items in it which seemed ridiculous. An articulate parade of farmers and stakeholders went to the podium to offer their opinions and to ask for proper rules on various subjects concerning cannabis cultivation.

When it finally came time for the board to vote, it was clear that they were not ready. The ad hoc committee had failed to get them copies of the ordinance ahead of time as well and the remaining three supervisors felt they were too rushed to decide. It was quite frustrating when the meeting was adjourned without a vote, but they promised to clean up discrepancies in the ordinance and present it the next day for the final vote.

Farmers at this time of year are very busy, so it was only a handful of folks who made it to the supervisors chambers the next day to hear the final outcome. However, thanks to technology, many of us watched it via internet at home. All I can say is, we got an answer, but what a mess the board of supervisors is!

After about an hour of further deliberation, and a severe calling out by the one woman on the board, Carrie Brown, who was disgusted by the work done by the ad hoc committee, Supervisor Dan Hamburg made the motion to vote. It was an awkward moment when no other supervisor made a second to the motion at first, but finally Tom Woodhouse, one of the ad hoc members, grunted a very halfhearted second. The vote was taken: a unanimous “Yes” to pass the urgency ordinance. Phew!

They published the full urgency ordinance online and we are all now trying to decipher it and get our ducks in a row to apply for the permits. They will allow us up to 99 plants per legal parcel of 10 acres or more and up to 9,900 square feet if grown inside or in a greenhouse. Fewer plants are allowed on smaller parcels and if you only grow 25 you do not need to register with the sheriff’s office. Zipties to put around the stem of each plant will be issued by the sheriff’s department for a fee yet to be announced (probably $50 per plant for 99 plants), just like under the old program, and that is the most unfortunate part of the whole deal. They promise us it will transfer to the Department of Agriculture in a year, but for now, we still have to deal with our sheriff, who can be quite difficult. A third party inspector must visit all permitted gardens to approve and any inspector is allowed to visit your garden without any prior notice during working hours.

All these permits will cost a pretty penny, and on top of all the new licenses necessary from the water board, fish & wildlife, etc., it may be enough to put some folks out of business. Then there will always be the real renegades who will refuse to sign up with any officials, thinking they can carry on the same way they have for years. But the truth is, we all need to come into the light and jump through their hoops, just like any official business does. It’s time for us to play the game too and if it means getting medicine to people in need and helping others avoid jail, it is all well worth it.

How many farmers will actually register with the sheriff’s department is anyone’s guess. Probably the most tricky requirement is the need to prove that cannabis cultivation was happening on the site as of May 10, 2016 – in other words, that you grew there last year as well. The reason: they “don’t want new farmers coming to Mendocino.” Go figure. But the pluses are many after going through this process, such as establishing working relations with county officials and creating unity among our local grassroots organizations. We still have many issues to address, such as dispensaries, distributing, farmers’ markets, nurseries and manufacturing, but this is a great start to becoming compliant and legally growing cannabis in Mendocino County. Now, time to get to some gardening!

Do you grow marijuana? Tell us how you deal with rules and regulations in your area.

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