‘Jumping On A Moving Train’

More than 100 cannabis cultivators jammed into the Long Valley Garden Club Wednesday morning for a workshop on how to apply for a county permit to grow cannabis.

The Laytonville workshop, one of four sponsored by the County of Mendocino Department of Agriculture April 19 and 20, featured speakers from several county departments as well as reps from five state agencies.

Diane Curry, Interim County Ag Commissioner, said she was very pleased with the Laytonville workshop.

“I thought it was fantastic.,” Curry said afterwards. “There was a lot of information given to the cultivators, which I think they needed to know. I’m glad people showed up.

“The message I got is that even the water boards and Fish and Wildlife, we all want to facilitate getting the cultivators in the program and help them get through this maze of bureaucracy and red tape. It’s like jumping on a moving train, and we’re all trying to catch up.”

Farmer Will Porter of Rusty Shovel Ranch on Bell Springs Road said he learned a lot in the three-hour meeting.

“The biggest thing for me was that I met a State Water Board member that I’ve never met before,” Porter said. “And I had three pages of questions for him. Also, I got to see seven agencies getting up and talking about cannabis together. It was very integrated. They all referenced each other. They knew each other much more than I would expect considering they were from competing bureaucracies.”

Porter said most of the water board people that he’s worked with are with North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB), and that agency is primarily interested in where an owner’s water is going and what the quality of the water is. “This person was really interested in you as a property, where your water’s coming from; do you even know if you own it? To actually sit down with somebody who knows what the jargon means was really helpful,” Porter said.

One confusing aspect of growing medical cannabis legally is that sign-offs or permits are required not only from the Mendocino’s Ag Department but, in many cases, from other state and county departments. For example, CalFire must sign off on county building permit applications for new or unpermitted structures on cultivation sites, examining roadways and setbacks as well as vegetation around the building. The NCRWQCB requires cultivators apply for water-discharge waivers; and the State Water Board requires water-use permits. If a cultivator irrigates by diverting from a lake or streamed or wetland, they must apply for a Fish and Wildlife permit.

Adding to the confusion is that every agency has a different deadline. For example, a cultivation application to the County Ag Department may be submitted any time before Dec. 31, 2017. But applications to the State Water Resources Control Board are due July 1.

The county has assured applicants that it will try to be flexible with cultivators as they grapple with the new, and in some cases, not-yet-written cultivation rules.

Lynn, a cultivator from “northeast of Covelo,” who did not give her last name, said the meeting was “somewhat overwhelming, but mostly quite helpful.

“It feels like there’s really an attitude in the departments of cooperation,” Lynn said. “It’s a process, and we’re in the middle of it and it isn’t all perfect.”

Some of the most stringent water regulations were outlined by California Fish and Wildlife’s Angela Liebenberg. To protect coho salmon and steelhead and the state’s fresh waterways, her agency requires approval if a cultivator is diverting from a pond, wetland, stream or wet area. “Digging out springs is not OK,” she said. “If you have a pond, you must be able to drain down your pond. You need a spillway or overflow designed by an engineer.”

Since county cannabis permits are now handled by the Ag Department, the Sheriff’s Department will only get involved with enforcement if nuisance complaints are filed or criminal violations have occurred at the property.

“There is no more 25 plants unless you are in the program,” said Undersheriff Randy Johnson. “You can have 100 square feet on 10 acres as a patient or 200 square feet total if you are a caregiver.” Johnson said zip ties are no longer accepted as proof of compliance.

Curry said she thinks the biggest hurdle for the Ag Department is knowing how many people are going to enroll in the program.

“That’s a number we can only guesstimate. I don’t want to bring on staff who will just to be sitting there, but I also want to be prepared so that if we have an onslaught we can take care of that. I’m really looking forward to working with the cultivators. So far, they’re great people and, you know, just another crop to grow.”

Curry said anyone who missed the Ag Department workshops can see videotapes of the Willits and Ukiah workshops on the department’s Web site and on YouTube. To get an application or to schedule a sit-down meeting with an Ag staff member to discuss the application, call the department at 707 234-6830 or contact www.co.mendocino.ca.us.

(Jane Futcher is the host of The Cannabis Hour on KZYX.)

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