Letter to the California Department of Food and Agriculture from Swami Select

The following Letter was sent to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. This issue is of such importance to small craft cultivators that we thought to share it with the community.

To: Richard Parrot,

Director, CalCannabis

Department of Food and Agriculture

Sacramento, CA

As the new and improved regulations are nearing completion, I am very concerned with a crucial issue for the Small Craft Cannabis Farmer. This is the definition proposed for “Canopy” in the revised emergency regulations.

(1) For indoor and mixed-light license types, canopy shall be calculated in square feet and measured using the room boundaries, walls, or ceiling-to-floor partitions of each enclosed area that will contain mature plants at any point in time. If mature plants are being cultivated using a shelving system, the surface area of each level shall be included in the total canopy calculation.

(2) For outdoor license types, canopy shall be calculated in square feet and measured using physical boundaries of all area(s) that will contain mature plants at any point in time, including the space within the boundaries;

     (A) Each unique area included in the total canopy calculation shall be separated by a physical boundary. For purposes of this section, “physical boundary” means a fence, hedgerow, garden plot, or other stable, semipermanent structure that clearly demarcates the canopy edge.

Throughout seven centuries of usage the word canopy has always meant “the shaded area”, whether from sun or rain. It has certainly never meant the exposed open area or the spaces in between.

Canopy, n., 1. A covering fixed over a bed, throne, shrine or the like. 2. any overhanging shelter or shade; a covering, as a canopy of tree branches. Webster’s New International Dictionary, second edition, 1955.

Canopy defined as the “drip shadow” of a plant is the only way to establish fairness in cultivation. It is also the standard definition of Canopy given by most agriculture commissioners and  university professors.

Further, it would seem to be the will of the legislature and the will of the people that they actually meant canopy when they wrote and voted for canopy in 2015 in MCRSA and 2016 in AUMA. Now, in defiance of Webster, the Oxford English Dictionary and the Will of the People, the CDFA  redefines canopy as “including all the space with in the boundaries” or “using the room boundaries”.

This new definition is a betrayal of the small and medium farmer as it will reduce the  available ground space for cultivation by up to 40%.  In counties restricting the largest grows to 10,000 acres, like Mendocino, this false definition will seriously impair the small cultivator’s ability to compete. It would reduce the plant number by nearly half.

This is in comparison with several 125,000 sq. ft. (three acres!!) indoor cultivation sites that have been authorized in the deserts of Riverside County. In such new large grows using clones, loss of a percentage of cultivating square feet has much less of an impact, and can be incorporated into a business plan.

Mendocino County assesses permit fees and taxes based on square footage, and the State bases its application and permit fees on it as well. If  all the area within the boundaries is included, the farmers end up having  to pay taxes and fees on square footage that does not produce any income for them. All of these charges are excessive and uniquely applied to cannabis, not other agricultural products, or  as cannabis should be rightly named, agricultural commodities (like Hemp).

The previous regulation included the words “garden bed,” now deleted, which was touted as a kind of “work-around” to escape the overly inclusive “everything within the boundaries” clause. It supposedly gave the County Ag Commissioner some authority to measure the actual size of the canopy or small bed.

Now, what does “garden plot” mean? For the County Planning and Building Department, it usually means a diagram of the whole garden or the whole parcel.  Can the farmer still measure a small mound bed of clearly defined shape as the canopy? Or the actual dimensions of long raised garden beds without walls, so-called Hugel beds? The language in the new emergency regulations has not clarified the situation to the benefit of the artisanal farmer.

These onerous restrictions impact the small craft farmer and hoop house grower more than the corporate industrial cultivator, who grows from clones in a “sea of green”. Once again the myriad punitive restrictions appear to the craft farmer to be designed to favor large corporate sponsored grows, regardless of their impact on the environment.

Not all farmers are equally competent, nor are garden soils all the same, nor do cultivators have equal amounts of water and sunlight. The grower with inferior soil, less water and less money to spend on nutrient amendments is at a distinct disadvantage. Different strains and even different phenotypes grow very differently, displaying widely variable growth diameters. A single garden grown from seed, may have plants from 3 to 10 feet in diameter.

Different geographical locations have vastly different environmental conditions, meaning some areas grow bigger plants. Other areas favor smaller plants with smaller flowers because huge buds are susceptible to botrytis mold when grown where there is morning fog or there are heavy autumnal rains. Calculating by canopy allows for greater space between plants, allows more sunlight and greater air-flow which stimulates plant growth and helps prevent mold. Plant spacing also makes fertilizing, weeding, de-leafing, watering and harvesting easier, with less damage to the plants.

It is commonly and erroneously claimed that a mature cannabis plant is ten by ten. Thus assigning 100 square feet as the average, each plant covers 100 sq. ft. (10 x 10), then only 100 plants would fit into 10,000 sq. ft. of cultivated area. First of all, to be pedantic, cannabis like most plants grows in the round, not the square. If it is ten feet in diameter, it is really only 78.5 square feet. (π x 52 = 78.5 sq. ft.) Calculating the canopy as the rain shadow and using the actual square footage of a ten foot diameter plant would allow 128 plants in 10,000 sq. ft., not 100.

The question is, in order to convert canopy to square footage for an entire garden, especially with non-contiguous areas, what value do you use as the standard or average, when plant diameters vary from three to ten feet? An eight foot diameter, making 50.3 sq. ft., might be a compromise value allowing 200 plants within 10,000 sq. ft. of true canopy.

The following list shows the enormous variation of plant numbers based on true canopy calculations:

  • 1.5’ radius (3’ diameter)  =    7.0 sq. ft. 1,428 plants in 10,000 sq. ft. of canopy
  • 2.0’ radius (4’ diameter)  =  12.0 sq. ft.  833 plants in 10,000 sq. ft. of canopy
  • 2.5’ radius (5’ diameter)  =  19.6  sq. ft. 526 plants in 10,000 sq. ft. of canopy
  • 3.0’ radius (6’ diameter)  =  28.3 sq. ft. 357 plants in 10,000 sq. ft. of canopy
  • 3.5’ radius (7’ diameter)  =  38.5 sq. ft. 263 plants in 10,000 sq. ft. of canopy
  • 4.0’ radius (8’ diameter)  =  50.3 sq. ft 200 plants in 10,000 sq. ft. of canopy
  • 4.5’ radius (9’ diameter)  =  63.6 sq. ft. 158 plants in 10,000 sq. ft. of canopy
  • 5.0’ radius (10’ diameter) =  78.6 sq. ft. 128 plants in 10,000 sq. ft. of canopy
  • 5.5’ radius (11’ diameter) =  95.0 sq. ft. 105 plants in 10,000 sq. ft. of canopy
  • 6,0’ radius (12 diameter) = 113.0 sq. ft. 88 plants in 10,000 sq. ft. of canopy
  • 6.5’ radius (13 diameter) = 132.0 sq. ft. 5 plants in 10,000 sq. ft. of canopy

I understand the supposed difficulty of enforcing a true canopy area calculation. However, should ease of enforcement be the rational for overly stringent rule making? There is need of more incentive for farmers-citizens willing to come forward to be in compliance, rather than the punitive attitude which characterizes these efforts so far. Without the farmers and their crop all the people of the “don’t touch the plant” category scheming to make millions will have nothing to sell.

Without the small craft farmers of the Emerald Triangle and the Sierra Foothills these Counties will face serious financial difficulties as the expected tax and fee revenues fail to materialize and cultivators cease operation and put their lands up for sale.

We need a small gesture of support from the CDFA. Please change the definition of canopy to be the “drip shadow” of the plant or some language restoring to the farmer the full canopy voted on by the legislature and the people.


Swami Chaitanya

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