Central Valley Water Board / Fish & Wildlife Offer Draft Regulations for Marijuana Farmers

October 2, 2015 - The Central Valley Water Board has issued a general order about marijuana cultivation in the Central district. The North Coast region issued their order and best practices in August.

On Friday, July 17, a Marijuana Working Group meeting was convened by a “joint” committee of the California Water Board and Fish and Wildlife at which a draft pilot program for regulating marijuana farms in the region was distributed.

The North Coast Region is ahead of the Central Valley; they expect to adopt their pilot program in August. Central Valley is aiming for October. They want to move the pilot program statewide.

Clint Snyder of Central Valley Water Board (a huge district taking up nearly half the state - see map) convened the meeting. It was said that 11 water board staff and 7 F&W staff were working on their pilot program to license marijuana growers in the region, along with staff from other agencies and elected officials.

What is lacking is involvement from the cultivation community, partly because of a cultural difference in the Central Valley, said Snyder. They'd like to reach out to growers who want to be environmental stewards, he said, using “more cordial” protocols, like in North Coast. They can either work with consent, or get a warrant. The latter is not so efficient; it's extremely time consuming. How might we reach out to groups and individuals? he asked.

Hezekiah Allen of the Emerald Growers Association replied that the problem is the local cultivation bans in the Central Region (Shasta/Butte/Tehama). He asked for:
1. Notification to land owner. Problem people won’t respond; better players will
2. Crops not destroyed first. No “lead with machete and ask questions later.”
3. Consultant or representatives allowed in field for farmer.

“Let’s make it more of a dialogue instead of an assumption of wrongdoing,” he said.

Kristin Nevedal of ASA’s Patient Certification Program noted that mail is a hard way to reach some tenants, adding that radio was a better way to reach them. “A more civil paradigm will see results, and increase the safety factor for enforcers,” she said.

Attorney Yvonne West, who works with both North Coast and the Central Valley Water Boards, stressed that eradications haven’t happened on water inspections, while adding that law enforcement would “always” have to be along for security. She said if LEOs decide the crop is illegal they could take action.

It was suggested the group put out the message: if you get a call or certified mail, respond; otherwise you’ll get a warrant. Also, if the Board can get out the message that they’re not after plants, that might help, since they’re dealing with a population that for decades has seen eradications every time a badge shows up. Does it help you if we’re proactive about getting permits? West was asked. Yes, she said, but we have limited resources to follow up.

Ellen Komp from Cal NORML asked whether the group would be doing community meetings before the 30-day comment period, starting in September. Snyder said that was all they would be doing. He was then asked how they would handle counties with cultivation bans. He said they would still do education, even though farmers in those areas could not sign up for the program. "So growers in counties with cultivation bans could be enforced upon with the warrants the Board is getting, but they have no option to comply with regulations?" Komp asked. Yes was the response.

On the retail end, bans mean the least compliance, said Ken Pfeiffer of the Board of Equalization. Places with bans offer no permits, and recoup no tax money. The cities that work with development practices seem to have the best compliance rate. Sacramento is a good model, he said. Pfeiffer said he is interested in working with almost any agency on bringing cultivators into a regulatory framework: ken.pfeiffer@boe.ca.gov 530-224-4780. “We don’t want illegal cartels, we’d like to have it monitored,” he said, adding that BOE is looking at the tobacco industry in other states, and other possible models. “The key is to get a handle on cultivators," he said, adding, "More consumers will come into the legal market if we don’t overtax.”

Hezekiah said one problem is that indiscriminate eradications by law enforcement are being messaged as environmental crimes. He mentioned the 500K gallon bladder that was pictured after the recent Island Mountain raids. EGA has been encouraging people to store water, but it’s more complicated than that. Storage of water was acknowledged as a reason for enforcement; a lot of watersheds won’t sustain it without proper permitting, it was said. If collected rainwater is mixed with jurisdictional water, it requires a permit: “Don’t touch it if it touches ground.” West noted that there were a lot of environmental consultants around who could help with things like 1600 permits, and lake & streamed alteration programs, on a site-specific basis.

It’s not realistic that a 2000-plant grow can be seen as legit, someone said. But let’s look at the area that’s cultivated, with an agricultural model, said Allen. Plants only matter when it comes to federal grant dollars and sentencing guidelines, he noted. They don’t matter when it comes to resource management.

In the afternoon we got a preview of the Cannabis Identification and Priority System, using an ESRI technology base, from Vesta, a consulting firm. They’re able to use the existing NAIP program to identify hotspots over a period of years. But it’s too expensive to zoom in on them and they’ll need ground support. It was noted that this will find problems after the fact, especially since growers are scurrying around the state to find places where they can grow in the wake of cultivation bans.

“Our goal is to develop a compliance structure,” said Snyder, adding that they're trying to come up with regulations so that the industry can comply on the wholesale and retail end.

The group wants feedback on the Tier Structure they've come up with (no regs for 6 plants or 1000 square feet; increasing regulations thereafter) and the Best Practices Manual they've developed. A formal comment period will begin starting in September and every comment will require a reply.