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Mendo Keeps On Digging

In case you were thinking there’s just no way this County could further screw up marijuana regulation, they somehow found a way to do it.

At Tuesday’s, Oct. 13 meeting, the Board of Supervisors gave the provisional go-ahead to expand pot cultivation in Mendocino County despite opposition from the Sheriff, environmentalists, and ranchers.

By a 4-to-1 vote, the Board conditionally OK’d numerous new provisions for a proposed Ordinance that will allow cultivation to occur on 10 percent of the total land on parcels zoned as Agriculture, Upland Residential, or Range Land. For example, a 600-acre parcel could have up to 60 acres of cultivated weed, or 100 acres of pot could be grown on a 1,000 acre parcel.

To his credit, Third District Supervisor John Haschak was the lone dissenter, explaining he had “serious concerns about” the expansion because “that’s going to really devastate the small growers. The rangeland, you know, we heard from the Sheriff, environmental groups, ranchers that are against it. There’s not a work plan to move this (forward) so I’m going to vote no.”

Earlier in the meeting, Sheriff Matt Kendall told the Supes there’s an abundance of marijuana in the county already — he estimated at least one million plants in the Covelo area alone — and it was a mistake to open up new growing areas, especially on rangeland, when “we can’t control the areas” now under cultivation. However, Supes John McCowen, Ted Williams, Dan Gjerde, and Carre Brown favored the “bigger-is-better-for-the-county’s-economy” pot cultivation model. 

McCowen argued that unless pot cultivation was allowed to expand, the County’s economic viability was threatened.

Kendall is the second Sheriff to object to opening up rangeland to pot farming. Just last December when the subject came up, then-Sheriff Tom Allman urged the Board to allow voters to decide the controversial issue of introducing pot cultivation on range land (so-called “legacy” grows are grandfathered under the existing, failed Ordinance).

Allman advised the Supes, “Once again, this is a very important topic … We’re at a point where this is the second time this year we’ve talked about range land and with all due respect to the last two speakers (who supported opening up range land for cultivation), I wish they were correct. I wish the vast majority of growers were responsible and respected our land. But as Sheriff I can tell you that’s not true. The vast majority of locals understand the importance of living and growing and raising their children in Mendocino County are responsible people. But I hate to inform people that the dirty truth is this is about greed and not about cannabis … No one is saying there is a shortage of cannabis in this county. No one is saying there is a shortage of land to grow on in this county. So why are we having this conversation (about expanding new cultivation into range land)? … I think the voters should decide. This is such an emotional decision. This is something that needs to go in front of our voters and say, ‘Do you want rangeland in this county to be turned into cannabis?’… It’s almost an end-run around the General Plan, and the General Plan needs to be evaluated.”

Tom Allman was absolutely correct in his assessment of the range land issue. That’s why the voters should decide it and not the very same county officials who have created absolute chaos after nearly four years of ordinance tinkering.

Speaking of Allman’s reference to greed, weed industry heavyweights such as Henry’s Original and Flow Kana submitted pre-meeting written statements arguing in favor of the “10 % rule,” using nearly the identical language that was approved by the Supes. Must be great minds do think alike.

According to Flo Kana’s written statement, “The Board of Supervisors has, on previous occasions, supported cultivation in RL zones and expansion, the only logical plan now, would be to incorporate these components into the ordinance as it is being developed … The amount of land that can be used for cannabis cultivation should be a percentage of overall parcel size.”

Henry’s Original, a subsidiary of the sprawling cannabis network created by Jamie Warm, filed comments hinting that the company may have to pull up stakes and depart unless the County “open the door” to cultivation on resource lands: “As a vertically integrated brand born in Mendocino, we hope to stay. But for businesses like ours to succeed and keep jobs here we need to scale production. Currently, responsible operators are being ‘zoned out’ of the legal industry, and cultivation caps artificially prevent us from operating as any other agriculture industry does … Allow cannabis cultivation up to 10% percent of parcel size.”

Not to confuse matters further because the County’s Cannabis Ordinance chronicles are tortuously convoluted, but this proposed Ordinance is written for pot farmers who either weren’t growing or couldn’t provide proof they were cultivating in Mendocino County prior to January 1, 2016. Those who were bona fide growers before that date are covered under the existing Ordinance, which everyone (including the Supervisors themselves) now agrees with my long-standing assessment as being an utter failure, a description now uttered by Supervisor Williams. 

How utter is that Ordinance’s failure? The chief architect of the Ordinance, Supe McCowen, opined at the meeting that “50 percent of the current applicants” seeking permits won’t get them, for a variety of reasons, including that their files can’t be located. He recently concluded the Ordinance is “unworkable.” 

Keep in mind, that after four years, only approximately 10 percent or around 1,000 of the estimated 10,000 growers have made and presumably paid non-refundable application fees. 

So where is everything on the pot front now?

• The Supes are banking on — literally — that the new Ordinance, which is supposed to be in place by April of 2021, will be so spiffy that it will attract most, if not all, of the 90 percent of growers who so far have avoided the entire legal process.

The likelihood of that occurring is slim-to-none. The vast majority of non-compliant growers have no incentive under the proposed plan to enter the legal market. Many of them long ago expanded their operations. They know the County has never enforced the current Ordinance, and they suspect the County will not enforce the proposed Ordinance, if and when it’s ever approved.

 • Supervisor Haschak was the lone dissenter to the proposed Ordinance mainly due to concerns about lifting the existing cultivation caps and the adverse affects on small growers, the so-called “mom and pops.” He believes the little guys will be “devastated.” He could be right, but I’ve learned those folks are very resilient and innovative problem-solvers. I’ll leave it at that. One thing is for sure, all pretenses of County officials looking out for the best interests of family pot farmers died with the introduction of this proposed Ordinance, which sure looks like it favors the interests of the big, capitalized growers.

• By opening up rangeland to cultivation, the County has bought itself big trouble with environmentalists and ranchers. Why pick a fight with people when you don’t have to? Besides the Planning and Building Department advised the BOS, “Incorporating RL (rangeland) and/or expansion above 10,000 square-feet will require additional analysis pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and may create delays to the start of the Phase Three program (Ordinance).”

• Seriously, isn’t there enough pot being grown in this county already?

(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:

One Comment

  1. Kirk Vodopals October 23, 2020

    Personally, I think this might be a good step towards getting more of this “agricultural” crop into “agricultural” areas. So far, as long as you had 10 acres, you could pretty much grow anywhere you wanted, even in residential areas. Makes sense to me to focus cultivation in more commercially/agriculturally/industrially zoned areas. But zoning doesn’t really mean that much in hilly, heavily timbered Mendocino County, particularly when the County doesn’t even care if you have enough water on-site to support your business. Here’s a thought: maybe outlaw growing everywhere besides Round Valley and don’t put any limits on size. Perfect!

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