Monica Senter: Understanding the new era of Cannabis Regulation
February 12, 2018
With the passing of Prop 64, the cannabis industry is now considered a "highly regulated" industry, similar to alcohol and tobacco. This is important to understand because the State now applies controls on the cannabis industry from "seed to sale." The regulations are hefty, and some argue insurmountable. There is an extensive list of rules and procedures in place that define what can and cannot be done with cannabis in California.
To that end, I would like to offer some clarifications of concepts that may remain misunderstood and may be generating unnecessary fear about permitting cannabis activity in Nevada County.
Commercial vs. personal — This particular topic is often misunderstood among those in dense residential areas who have struggled with cannabis in their neighborhoods. Commercial does not necessarily mean big. California allows for very small commercial farms — one can apply for a Specialty Cottage license limited to 25 plants, which is considered micro-farming by traditional standards. The point is that commercial merely means that the product will go into the legal market for sale. Personal grows are allowed for personal use. The limit is 6 plants and local jurisdictions have the power to say if that's indoors, outdoors or both. Also, personal use is now allowed in California, no more getting busted for using. Where personal use can occur can be regulated locally as well. That's why we can have our plants at home, but we can't take it into town and smoke it on the street.
Adult use vs. medical — California regulators have developed two distinct paths for licensing cannabis businesses. Applicants can seek a "Medical" license, an "Adult Use" license or both. The regulations and quality control are the same for both license types. The only difference is the amount of tax imposed at the point of sale. That means that a jurisdiction like Nevada City can issue a dispensary permit for a "medical dispensary" who provides product from farmers who have a medical cultivation license. The designation is mostly about where in the supply chain the product goes, but all testing and quality regulations apply the same to medical or adult use cannabis. Most folk do not know that the Nevada City dispensary is medical only. Medical dispensaries require a verifiable physician's recommendation from all who enter the dispensary. This is important for communities who don't want an adult use dispensary but do want a medical dispensary.
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Setbacks as a solution for odor control — Odor will be the biggest challenge for our county. Neighbors don't want their neighborhoods impacted by the smell of cannabis. Setbacks have been used to control impacts but irregular parcel sizes and rough terrain make this an unmanageable proposal for existing cultivators. Odor mitigation is a hot topic. It is worth mentioning that not all flowering cannabis smells like dead skunk. The smell is generated by terpenes, compounds found in all aromatic plants. Some cannabis smells fruity, piney, or citrusy. Skunky cannabis smell is indeed offensive to some people, but by using best practices, farmers can work to mitigate odor. This issue also suggests an opportunity for farmers and neighbors to discuss smell issues directly, with the goal of reaching an amenable solution. There is no out-of-the-box solution for this problem but setbacks as odor mitigation is also an ineffective control.
Water conservation and contamination — Many local residents have expressed concerns about impacts on wells and water supply both in consumption and contamination. The State of CA has implemented a very specific water policy that is managed by the State Water Control Board. The state works with local water utilities and local jurisdictions to strictly control the sourcing of water. A permit from the state water board is required for cannabis farms. Violation of these controls result in license revocation for three years with fines and penalties. Illegal water diversion is a significant concern and is not allowed for cannabis cultivation. This is one of those highly regulated areas where the state has stepped in to protect statewide water resources.
It is essential that local regulations are designed to encourage current cannabis operators to enter the regulated marketplace in order to solve the local problems created by prohibition.
With good information, we can make better decisions. A closer look at the breadth of cannabis regulations reveals that they were designed to address and solve the very things we fear.
Monica Senter, a Nevada County resident, and a member of The Union Editorial Board. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the board or its members. She can be reached at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.