CA cracks down on medical pot growers

marijuana-leafMarijuana has rocketed to the top of California’s list of cash crops, sucking an outsized — and illegal — amount of water with it. “An ounce of marijuana requires 34 gallons while an ounce of almonds requires 25.3 gallons of water,” the Turlock Journal observed.

As the state’s drought-imposed cutbacks in water consumption have tightened, medical marijuana farmers have largely flouted the rules — until now.

A new era

The Cannabis Pilot Project, staffed by personnel from California water boards the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, recently set an example with its first strike against environmentally harmful marijuana farming. “The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has fined property owner Christopher Cordes and contractor Eddie Axner Construction Inc., a total of $297,400 for large-scale grading activities that resulted in actual and potential harm to surface waters in the Ono area of Shasta County,” according to the Central Valley Business Times. In addition to grading the land without a permit, the offending parties violated water quality laws in an “egregious” manner, the board ruled.

In an illustration of the enforcement challenges faced by the board, officials did not become aware of the violations until Shasta County sheriff’s deputies “raided the site in October and destroyed about 100 plants growing there,” as the Associated Press observed.

Pot farmers have been scrambling to adapt to the state’s new crackdowns on excessive and unauthorized water use. In the north San Francisco Bay, cultivators formed a new organization, the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, to organize around the challenge. Former Sebastopol mayor Craig Litwin “said the flip side to getting recognized as legitimate businesses is that growers won’t be able to flaut environmental regulations by planting pot directly along creeks or diverting stream water need for endangered fish,” reported The Press Democrat.

The group’s inaugural meeting drew Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, who “expressed surprise to find so many of the region’s growers backing his efforts to place themselves under government oversight.” As the Press Democrat noted, Wood cautioned that the race to curry favor with lawmakers and regulators could leave growers dissatisfied even if they succeed, speculating that “in a few years they would be asking him, ‘Dammit, what is with all these regulations?'”

Regulating medical pot

Growers have already gotten an early taste of the Legislature’s attitude toward their product. Several bills regulating medical pot have been condensed into a new bill making its way through Sacramento. “The new version of AB266 would create the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation under the Department of Consumer Affairs,” California Healthline reported. “That agency would be tasked with licensing and regulating dispensaries, as well as any cultivation or distribution of medicinal marijuana. The bill would allow counties to impose a tax on the cultivation and distribution of medicinal pot.”

In addition to curbing harmful and illegal water usage, lawmakers took aim at the quality of the drug itself. “For those who need and use it, it’s important that it be high quality,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, according to California Healthline. “Because of a lack of regulation, mold or pesticides and other harmful ingredients could be in it and that could threaten the health of patients.”

Splitting the difference

Fearing a messy clash involving growers, environmentalists and law enforcement, some policymakers have set out to ensure that lawbreaking growers of legal medical pot can make an orderly transition into a regulated marketplace.

In the so-called Emerald Triangle, the hotbed of marijuana cultivation centered in Humboldt County, water regulators have crafted a new approach. “The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board is poised to adopt a program that would require all marijuana cultivators to register, pay a fee, follow strict environmental guidelines and seek appropriate permits from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

According to the Times, the impetus for the proposal’s development can be traced to Gov. Jerry Brown himself.

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