Public Hearing on New California Cultivation Regulations

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On Tuesday afternoon in Santa Ana, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) held the first in a series of public hearings that aim to collect constructive criticism about newly proposed medical marijuana regulations.

Back in 2015, the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act represented the first attempt to regulate California’s medical marijuana industry since its inception. The set of three bills called for the creation of a committee known as the Bureau of Marijuana Control that would be tasked with drafting the framework of what would become California’s new medical program. The committee was to develop a system of rules for cultivators, lab testing facilities, distributors, and other cannabis industry businesses ahead of January 1, 2018, when the new medical regulations are set to take effect.

The Bureau of Marijuana Control assigned the cultivation regulation duties to the CDFA, which must corral the roughly 50,000 cannabis growers in California into one regulated group.

The CDFA submitted their first draft of regulations, a 58-page proposal crafted over the course of the last year, on April 28. California residents have until June 12 to submit comments and criticisms of the draft at one of the scheduled hearings or in writing.

Tuesday’s public hearing in Santa Ana and today’s in Visalia will be followed by two additional sessions to allow for concerned citizens and business owners from all areas of the state to voice their opinions.

  • May 25, 2017 in Ukiah at the Ukiah Convention Center from 1 to 3 p.m. (200 S. School St.)
  • June 14, 2017 in Sacramento at the CDFA Auditorium from 1 to 3 p.m. (1220 North St.)

The primary concerns of Tuesday’s hearing attendees were centered around clarifying points of confusion in the text, but there were also a number of valid criticisms of the proposed regulations. Three members of the CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing staff were in attendance to hear comments and offer insight into the decisionmaking process. Environmental Scientist Lindsay Rains, Supervising Special Investigator John Halligan, and Branch Chief Amber Morris each sat quietly for the majority of the session while Californians made their case for changes. Morris let the gathered crowd of about 75 know that the hearing would be recorded and the committee is required by law to review each comment and take them into consideration when finalizing the regulations before January.

One major concern among cultivators is the new set of renewable energy regulations. A section of the draft spells out requirements that mandate a grow must utilize at least 42% renewable energy, such as solar power. Cultivators are worried that such a sudden hike in the adoption of renewable energy solutions, which can cost significantly more than standard existing energy solutions, will handcuff California’s medical growers and hurt the industry as a whole. Most Californians would agree that renewable energy is the way of the future and the key to solving our current water and energy issues, but growers must be given reasonable time to adapt to a totally new system of guidelines. Regulators should consider striking the requirement for the time being, and then implementing a gradually scaled renewable energy minimum in subsequent years. One commenter offered an alternative solution: incentivise outdoor growing and the use of renewable energy rather than having a hard minimum requirement.

There is increasing apprehension among cannabis consumers about what kind of pesticides are used in the growing and processing of their product. While cultivators seemed generally open to the idea of abiding by a banned list of substances from CDFA, a number of growers requested that the state provide access to the list ahead of time so growers can refine their cultivation process to fall in line with new regulations before they’re subjected to fines. We also found issue with the draft’s inclusion that licensed cultivators “not apply pesticides when pollinators are present.” It is agreed upon that pollinators need protection, however, the wording of this regulation could prove to be difficult. We would like to see the CDFA edit this mandate to make clear that indoor growers are not affected, as their confined pesticide use would not affect outdoor pollinators. Also, the regulations should be clear about the distance and time frame around which pesticides cannot be used.

The CDFA’s proposed track and trace system aims to apply accountability to the cultivation and distribution process by implementing a meticulously-tracked chain of custody. Some attendees who spoke at the public hearing were worried that the mandatory aspects of the system would be too burdensome, notably the perceived requirement that cultivators use a lab testing facility that their distributor may have a contract with rather than being allowed to choose a licensed testing partner of their own. We also found issue with the closed nature of the cannabis track and trace system’s software. By not mandating that track and trace software be open source, the state makes business operations exponentially more cumbersome to business owners. The CDFA should instead implement a software that can integrate with already-in-use technology so as not to stifle innovation in the future.

Feedback regarding the licensing process was mixed, as some complained about accessibility and steep costs while other more established business representatives actually praised the reasonable fee structure. One cultivator offered a suggestion that license fees be calculated according to yield rather than property size to keep overhead relative to the actual output of the grow. A young entrepreneur made his way to the podium to explain how he was intent on starting a cannabis-infused coffee business, but the upfront cost of applying for and securing a license was well outside of his budget, essentially shutting him out of the industry. To give you an example, a medium-sized indoor grow license would set you back $4,260 upfront to apply, followed by an annual fee of $38,350 to continue operating legally. That doesn’t leave much room for error, especially for a new business trying to get off the ground. We want to see the CDFA explore adjusting its fees to make licenses more accessible to new business owners, or possibly even introduce a discount voucher system for low income individuals or those starting their first business.

On the topic of licenses, one concerned attendee worried that businesses with pending applications would not be able to continue operation if they hadn’t received approval by January, risking a lapse in business. The proposed regulations state that cultivators with pending applications may continue to operate, but “if the application for licensure is denied, the applicant shall cease all commercial cannabis operations until a license is obtained.” The rigid nature of this mandate leaves cultivators open to the threat of closure, even in the event their application is denied for just a small clerical issue. Instead of an exacting process like this, the CFDA should utilize a grace period for businesses to get their affairs in order without having to shut down operations fully. We also noticed that the CFDA’s proposal doesn’t specifically mention any sort of timetable for the state to make a decision on license applications. To avoid any businesses getting lost in the shuffle and having to wait an avoidably long amount of time for their license decision. Before finalizing regulations, the CDFA should include a maximum time frame for license application processing and decisions.

If you’ve read the CDFA’s proposed regulations for medical marijuana in California and want to issue constructive criticism of your own, file a written comment or attend one of the public hearings that best relates to your specific concern.

Distribution, transportation, lab testing, and retail sales:

  • June 1, 2017 in Eureka at the Adorni Center from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (1011 Waterfront Dr.)
  • June 8, 2017 in Los Angeles at the Junipero Serra Building from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (320 W. Fourth St.)
  • June 9, 2017 in Sacramento in Department of Consumer Affairs hearing room S-102 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (1625 N. Market Boulevard)
  • June 13, 2017 in San Jose at the King Library from 1 to 4 p.m. (150 E. San Fernando St.)

Manufacturing

  • June 8, 2017 in Santa Rosa at 50 D Street in room 410A/410B at 10 a.m.
  • June 13, 2017 in San Diego at 1350 Front St. at 10 a.m.

Lab Testing only

  • June 1, 2017 in Eureka at the Adorni Center from 1 to 3 p.m. (1011 Waterfront Dr.)
  • June 8, 2017 in Los Angeles at the Junipero Sierra Building from 1 to 3 p.m. (320 W. Fourth St.)
  • June 13, 2017 in San Jose at the King Library from 4 to 6 p.m. (150 E. San Fernando St.)
  • June 20, 2017 in Sacramento in Department of Consumer Affairs hearing room S-102 from 10 a.m. to noon (1625 N. Market Boulevard)

About Author

Habitually line-stepped on the radio for a grip before writing about music for Genius, Complex, XXL, Elevator, HotNewHipHop, and more. If you're stoned right now, leave a comment with your favorite movie, regardless of what the article is about. Follow @LongLiveTheDuke on Twitter if you're feeling like you don't want our connection to end right this very moment.

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