Pot Ordinance Woes Continue

There are dark clouds on the horizon regarding the County’s failed Cannabis Ordinance and the resulting uncertain prospects of pot growers ever being licensed by state regulators.

According to one county official, the licensing process now required by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) was “never anticipated when the Cannabis Ordinance was adopted by the County in 2017.”

That official, Planning and Building Services (PBS) Director Brent Schultz, gloomily concluded, “These (state) processes will also be difficult for our permittees and applicants to navigate, with no guarantee that their cultivation sites will ultimately pass site specific environmental review. Furthermore, because Provisional State Licenses expire January 1, 2022, PBS staff has no confidence that sufficient time remains for active permittees and applicants in the County’s Cannabis Cultivation Permitting Program to obtain all necessary approvals for an Annual State Cannabis Cultivation License to be issued.”

Therefore, it’s possible that untold numbers of county residents may have no way forward to obtain the required state cannabis license.

I disagreed with Shultz’s characterization of this development as being “never contemplated when the original ordinance was adopted.”

Three years ago representatives of two state resource agencies — CAL FIRE and the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) — appeared on their own motion at a July 18, 2017 Board of Supervisors meeting, and specifically addressed County officials on potential problems with their pot rules.

From the outset of their remarks, the state resource agencies’ reps pointedly but politely bared their fangs on the County’s problematical environmental review process and the enforcement issue.

I covered DFW’s numerous warnings on the ordinance’s defects in previous columns.

Here’s what CAL FIRE had to say on the county’s pot regulations.

CAL FIRE’s Unit Resource Manager Craig Pederson spoke on the lack of enforcement regarding tree removal associated with marijuana cultivation.

“CAL FIRE was satisfied with the final ordinance language which clearly prohibited tree removal” for grow sites, Pederson said.

But, he stated, “In practice we find that not to be the case as conversion of timberland to cultivate marijuana has continued.”

He pointed out that ‘the number of issues and potential CAL FIRE law enforcement cases are escalating …”

He told the Supes, “CAL FIRE encourages the county to promptly and consistently enforce the cultivation ordinance. The ordinance must be enforced by the county, as lead agency, to ensure responsible agencies’ (such as CAL FIRE) written and verbal concerns are addressed.”

He reminded the Supes that the ordinance created a “zero tolerance for tree removal. It doesn’t allow a single (commercial) tree to be removed for cultivation purposes.”

The bottom line for CAL FIRE was they were not happy that they were being forced by the “escalating” tree removal activities of growers to do the enforcement duties that are actually the county’s responsibilities.

By any process of program evaluation or measure of a program’s effectiveness, the Mendocino County cannabis ordinance is an abysmal failure. I said that there’s really only one viable option left to the County, and it appears there may be a number of Supervisors who see it that way also, with John McCowen, Ted Williams, and John Haschak perhaps favoring a change in direction.

On Tuesday, Aug. 4, the Board of Supervisors will be discussing whether to change direction and possibly create a Cannabis Ordinance that actually works, instead of the one that is currently ignored by 90% of pot farmers.

(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, and is also the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org.)

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