At a special community meeting in Willits on Monday, Oct. 19, the Board of Supervisors’ Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee surprised the audience with proposed changes to “Phase Three” of the county’s cultivation ordinance for 2020. Many farmers thanked the board. Local environmentalists were stunned.
Speaking for the board’s Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee, 2nd District Supervisor John McCowen announced possible revisions to county cultivation regulations in 2020 allowing:
New permit applications on rangeland (RL) subject to a use permit requiring environmental review;
Up to one acre of cultivation for conforming parcels in RL, agricultural land (AG) and upland residential (UR), but only for outdoor cultivation in order to limit proliferation of hoop houses and greenhouses;
Transferability of agricultural permits, provided the farm has a use permit and complies with cultivation requirements;
Four acres of cultivation by more than two permittees provided no single permit exceeds one acre; and
Track and trace limited to the state-approved system once the system is online.
Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg, who chairs the board’s Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee, was a “no-show’ at the Willits Community Center, where about 75 farmers and several county chiefs of staff were on hand.
McCowen’s committee recommended a total of 23 changes, including: elimination of the prohibition on garden visibility from the public right of way; alignment of county generator requirements with state regs; deletion of wildlife exclusionary fences; matching county nursery requirements more closely to the state’s; reducing the number of annual inspectors; reopening the application submission process for six months after adoption of both the Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations and the new cannabis overlay districts.
“I really do want to thank you,” said cultivator Nikki Lastreto, co-founder of Swami Select in Laytonville. “You have blown my mind tonight and I can feel hope for the first time in a long time.” Many other farmers who spoke during the hour-long public comment period also thanked the board for “listening” to their pleas and suggestions.
Lastreto said the committee’s proposal to allow four-acre grows worried her because the change could allow “really big corporations to come in to ag land and do really giant grows.” That, she said, could be a problem for the county’s many small craft farmers.
Dozen’s of farmers who spoke during the hourlong public comment period expressed concerns about confusing advice and long permit back-ups at the county’s Building and Planning Dept.; failure of distributors to pay legal farmers for product; high and/or redundant county taxes; setbacks that are more strict than the state’s, and the need to expand square footage of patient grow sites.
David and Ellen Drell of the Willits Environmental Center expressed outrage at the cannabis committee’s recommendation to allow four-acre grows and to give new permits on rangeland. Rangeland is currently off limits to new permits after 2020, due in part to the Drells’ lobbying efforts and those of the Black Tail Deer Association and the Mendocino Wildlife Association.
“I am stunned and shocked and discouraged that you would open up to new permits in 2020,” David Drell said. “You’re going into new bigger grows.” He implored the county cancel Phase Three and “figure out who’s growing or who’s growing illegally first.”
Ellen Drell told the committee it was “irresponsible” to allow expansion of cannabis cultivation with the current regulation program in “such chaos.”
Traci Pellar, co-founder Mendocino Wildlife Association, said she opposed rangeland expansion, at least until the county can thoroughly assess “who’s legal and who’s not” and determine how the county’s small farmers are doing.
At the end of the meeting, McCowen took a straw poll of the audience on his committee’s 23 recommendations. The plan to open rangeland-zone properties to new permits in 2020 was by far the most popular with the audience.
The supervisors’ Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee will present its recommendations and discussion points to the entire Board of Supervisors on Friday, Nov. 16.
(Jane Futcher is the host of The Cannabis Hour, every other Thursday at 11 a.m. on KZYX.)