More than 1,100 people jammed the Mateel Community Center Saturday, Feb. 20, for eight panels on hot cannabis topics: seed breeding; creating “louder” terpenes; establishing appellations and terroir; bioremediation and sustainable organic farming methods; local and state regulations; best business practices, and patient access.
In a carnival-like atmosphere, exhibitors in tents outside the Mateel hawked everything from seeds and soil to chemical testing and trim machines.
“The most exciting aspect for me personally was to see standing room only at every panel,” said the Spring Kickoff’s executive producer Allison Edrington. “People in the cannabis community have a hunger for knowledge on how to do it right and meet white- market needs, and that is why we focused our education on sustainable business and farming practices and how to work with local government.”
In the sunshine outside the crowded but chilly Mateel meeting room, Laytonville’s Casey O’Neill of HappyDay Farms worked the California Growers Association’s (CGA) table, signing up new members and sharing information on California’s 2015 MMRSA — the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act.
Legendary commercial plant propagator and Ganjier co-founder Kevin Jodrey of Wonderland Nursery told the audience at the terpene panel that intoxicating plant aromas have incredible effects, particularly in boosting sales.
“Everyone is looking for a plant with outward expression that is loud, that holds throughout drying and processing,” Jodrey said. “If it has a low odor to begin with, it will remain that way.”
Jodrey recommended harvesting flowers early in the morning to protect from heat. Drying-area temperatures should be maintained at 78 degrees F. The ideal humidity, he said, is 48 percent.
Chemist Samantha Miller of Pure Analytics lab in Santa Rosa advised farmers not to use fans and heaters in drying areas because heat and blowing air can damage volatile terpenes.
A regulation panel talked of the financial costs and business challenges medical cannabis farmers face if they want to become compliant with state regulations.
”You are entering a regulated business,” said Praj White of Manhard Consulting in Eureka. “What is your business plan? Do you have an attorney? Do you keep accounting records? Do you know where are you headed weighed against the costs of compliance?”
White said farmers will need to create water-use and discharge plans, fix inadequately graded roads, enroll with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control District, be prepared to track and trace their plants and deal with zoning laws.
When asked if farmers should wait for the North Coast water district to issue notices of non-compliance before registering their gardens, White said no. “Would you rather have an angry bear or a happy bear? If you are in violation, they are not in such a good mood.”
Panelist Nathan Whittington, Humboldt chair of the CGA, noted that the new state cannabis regulations represent a huge change for medical cannabis farmers who, by necessity, have never usually kept written records. Now they must track income and expenses, create business plans, prepare and pay taxes, and become compliant with state and federal employment law.
Former Humboldt D.A. Paul Gallegos told the audience that the cost of compliance is “anybody’s guess.” He reminded growers — not that they needed reminding —that cannabis still falls under the Controlled Substances Act and is regulated by a federal government that takes the official view that marijuana has no medical value. Despite Congress having passed the Rohrabacher, Farr Amendment in 2014, requiring the federal government to respect state sovereignty over medical marijuana, Gallegos said the feds can and still do “go after individuals.”
“Get informed. Get empowered. Get reputable professional help,” Gallegos urged.
Executive director Natalynne DeLapp of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) heralded Humboldt County’s new medical marijuana, four-phase land-use ordinance.
“This is us,” DeLapp said. “This is all of us. This is investing in our community and not in another boom or bust economy like timber and fishing.”
A panel called “Establishing Appellations and Rebuilding Watershed as a Community” focused on the three factors that constitute a region’s “terroir” or epigenetic qualities: soil, topography and climate.
“Leave behind quantity and do quality,” said Frenchy Cannoli, a well-known horticulturist and hash maker who writes for Weed World. “You have to rely on yourself and protect your land because everything comes from this. If you don’t care for it you lose everything.”
Dave Royal of Earthworm Soil Factory in Chico said earthworm castings increase the soil’s microbial population and health. “It’s not about growth, it’s about health. Look at the health of the plant by increasing the biotic process of plant and soil.”
Watershed resources specialist Hollie Hall of Arcata urged farmers to plant cannabis directly in the soil, not in pots, which saving water and potentially improving soil. “Reuse and build soils and store water within the terroir,” she said. “That’s the water which has the perfect pH for your plants.”
Hall teamed up with Dan Mar of High Tide Permaculture and Alan Adkisson, founder of GroCachi, for a panel on site remediation, water use and sediment discharge.
“Where are your tanks? How are you managing riparian areas? Do you have a fifty-foot minimum setback from streambeds? How can we leave as much clear water as possible?” Hall asked.
Mar urged farmers to update their gray water storage, replace outhouses and keep spoils piles and gardens away from waterways.
Water-storage bladders are “short-term strategies,” Hall said, because bears and pigs can easily puncture them, creating devastating erosion problems.
Adkisson said that the whole North Coast region is in need of bioremediation. A lot of contamination came from the logging industry, he said. Of particular concern, he said, is glyphosate, contained in many herbicides. He said the run-off from correctly bioremediated land actually improves the watershed and reduces glyphosate. The government, perhaps with tax breaks, should compensate farmers who engage in land remediation that produces beneficial run-off, Adkisson said.
The Spring Kickoff’s Edrington believe the event accomplished its primary goal: to prepare the community for the cultivation and regulation in season ahead.
“The feedback we have received on the education has been phenomenal,” she said. “People felt like they walked away having more knowledge than when they came in, regardless of skill level, and that is exactly the kind of feedback I hoped for.”
(Jane Futcher is host of The Cannabis Hour, every other Thursday morning at 9 a.m. on KZYX FM/Mendocino County Public Broadcasting.)