State officials and cannabis activists at the 13th Annual Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa called for solidarity among farmers, environmentally sound agricultural practices and caution in creating onerous regulations.
An estimated crowd of 30,000 poured into the Sonoma County Fairgrounds Dec. 10 and 11 to celebrate the fall cannabis harvest. Many sampled tinctures, salves, edibles, and buds in the 215 prescription area; viewed the latest trimming, irrigation, soil and farming technologies; snapped photos of the world's largest joint, and packed 100 educational panels and workshops.
“Pay your taxes,” said Fiona Ma, chair of the California State Board of Equalization, at the Government Officials panel Dec. 10. "We are more than happy to help you comply.”
Ma urged the audience to follow local and state compliance regulations, get seller's permits and "put money away" all year to pay income and sales taxes. “If we do come and audit, and you are collecting but haven’t been remitting, it is very serious.”
At the same panel, California District 2 Assemblyman Jim Wood, an author of the Medical Marijuana Safety and Regulation Act, advised the audience to beware of consultants who promise they can procure state licenses for medical or recreational cannabis businesses. He implored entrepreneurs ask such consultants three questions: What qualifies you to be an advisor? How long have you been in California? And do you have three references I can talk to?
The chief of the state’s new Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, Lori Ajax, said her agency does not want to “over-regulate” and that business owners should not to assume the bureau has all the answers. “We need your help and feedback and comments,” Ajax said.
Brian R. Leahy, director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, advised cannabis entrepreneurs to learn the rules and regulations that apply to operating a legal business in California.
"The California Environmental Protection Agency is now in your life,” Leahy said.
Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen attended the government panel and told state officials during the Q & A period that if state and local cannabis regulations are too onerous, “People will stay outside of the system.”
Casey O’Neill of HappyDay Farm in Laytonville asked farmers at a community organizing panel to get active, make their voices heard at county government meetings and be ready to compromise where they can.
“If you are not at the table, you are on it,” O’Neill said.
Workshops also focused on plant genomes; pest and mold management; soil building; “rescheduling,” or removing cannabis from the Bureau of Narcotics Schedule 1 substances list; branding and marketing, and terpenes— the enzymes that give plants their smells and flavors.
To ensure cannabis retains its terpene varieties and strength —which panelists said can give products a strong market edge—Samantha Miller of Pure Analytics and Josh Wurzer of SC Labs recommended that growers cure plants in cool temperatures, keep curing humidity low, and dry plants gently.
At a Sunday breakfast for members of the California Growers Association, CGA Executive Director Hezekiah Allen called on his 900-member organization to pressure state legislators to remove what he termed the new state "harvest tax” contained in the new state medical and recreational regulations, effective Jan. 1, 2018.
The taxes include a state excise tax on cultivation of $9.25 per ounce of marijuana flowers and $2.75 per ounce of marijuana leaves. All retail sales, medical and non-medical, will be subject to a 15-percent excise tax in addition to regular state sales tax.
"What happens if you have a test and can't sell [your product]?” Allen said of the harvest tax. "There's no state refund if you can't."
The CGA is recommendsing that the Legislature replace the harvest tax with a distribution tax; replace the leaf tax with a product tax; impose a tiered-tax rate, and establish a tax exemption for cottage cultivators growing up to 25 mature plants for outdoor cultivation or 500 square feet or less of total canopy for indoor cultivation, on one premises.
According to Allen, the Legislature can change the new tax provisions, but they must receive calls and comments immediately in order to make changes by March, after which changes are nearly impossible to make.
"They need to know the ag community can't bear this tax,” Allen said.
Like many speakers at the Cup, Allen extolled the marketing and branding value of appellations, the labels that link agricultural products to the geographic locations where they are grown.
But Allen had one caveat.
"No more bickering over which county grows the best. No more indoor versus outdoor. The urban-rural divide must end. Country mice, get comfortable in the cities.
"This isn't just about bottom line and gross dollars,” Allen said. “This is about people like you. This is about towering redwoods. This is about sustaining agriculture and the places that we care about."
(Jane Futcher is host of The Cannabis Hour on KZYX.)