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Debra Weistar: Little data on cannabis growers

Debra Weistar | Other Voices

Cannabis is a big part of Nevada County culture and has been for decades. Cannabis cultivation provides many residents with jobs and contributes to our local economy.

Laws have dramatically changed in recent years as different counties in our watershed adopted or shut down pathways for commercial cultivators to grow legally.

After an extensive public process, Nevada County was the only county in the watershed to approve an urgency ordinance for commercial cannabis cultivation in May 2019. The intention was to encourage growers to come into compliance and help mitigate impacts from illegal cannabis cultivation.

Since then, only a small percentage of all the cultivators in Nevada County have moved through the system. Of the estimated 3,500 cultivators in Nevada County (not including the three other counties in our watershed), only 3% have come into compliance as of 2021, which means we are missing data about the vast majority of cultivators in regard to their practices, challenges and values.

The South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) seeks to understand why people are not coming into compliance, which is why the organization launched a survey at the end of March. This work is part of their Growing Green for the Yuba program, which began in 2013 to educate growers and encourage cannabis cultivation that minimizes negative effects on the watershed.

Through the survey, SYRCL aims to increase understanding regarding the challenges and barriers that cultivators who want to come into compliance face. It also wants to understand why others are choosing not to come into compliance.

SYRCL wants to hear from community members, too. How is cannabis cultivation impacting those who don’t grow (or don’t grow commercially)? And how are large (and often illegal) cultivation operations still creating negative environmental impacts, including illegal water diversions, clear cutting, and pesticide runoff?

The more data that is collected, the more helpful it will be. SYRCL has stated that it plans to aggregate the anonymous information and share the results with stakeholders such as Nevada County, Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, Nevada Irrigation District, and cannabis business owners. It will also use this data to make recommendations to these entities to improve and streamline current systems and identify opportunities for educational initiatives.

If you haven’t filled out the survey yet, I encourage you to do so. You can find the survey online at https://yubariver.org/issues/cannabis/ or in many local gardening shops. The deadline for the survey has been extended to May 21 to allow more people to participate.

Collecting and compiling information from people like you will provide data to reassess the cannabis ordinance so that it can be updated to make compliance an achievable goal for small farmers and business owners in our community.

Unless and until compliance is accessible, illegal grows will continue to proliferate, with no way to regulate damaging impacts to the watershed. SYRCL’s mission is to “unite the community to protect and restore the Yuba River watershed.” This survey is one piece of that mission.

Debra Weistar is the co-director of the Synergia Learning Center and a member of the Nevada County Community Advisory Group. She lives in Nevada County.


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