Mass Extinction Threatens Mendo Growers

OK, the title may be a little dramatic. But it has become abundantly clear to me that the Mendocino County exercise of legalizing and regulating cannabis has as its primary purpose the removal of all cannabis growers from the mountains. The methodology is to distract the politically active growers with myriad detailed restrictions, always more strict than for any other industry (e.g., set backs from the property line for pig styes are three feet; for cannabis 50 feet). Every week there is a new limit or restriction proposed so we must read and rally to counter this week’s obstacle, always in a reactive mode to the latest imposition. 

The most recent one was an attempt to require a written permission from each parcel owner on a private road to allow cannabis cultivation. This could give one’s angry neighbor the power of being the final arbiter of one’s cultivation permit. In the end, they tossed us a crumb of accommodation, rejecting that proposal, while the big issue stays hidden.

This is part of the “death by a thousand slices” strategy, which also happens to be essential to the intended aim. A friend was talking with their third party inspector while beginning the permit process. The friend said that farmers were willing to sign up in order to stop being arrested by the Sheriff. The inspector, who was a retired Department of Fish and Wildlife officer, said that the reason DFW wanted legalization was to get all the growers out of the mountains.

There are so many rules, so many new permits, costly lab tests, taxes, as well as so many professional advisors to hire, that when the average farmer looks at the going wholesale price and does the math, many are deciding there is no way to break even.

Now the news coming from the County Agricultural Commission is not good either. It is two months after permit applications were first accepted and only two have been approved, while 19 have been denied. These are people who have bravely come out of hiding, people who were reasonably confident of getting a permit, but they flunked. To date there has been no information on what the infractions were. Most applicants have had to spend thousands just to fulfill the preliminary requirements and then they get rejected??? If the same ratio of 10 rejects for every permit granted holds, we are looking at only 70 out of 700 applicants getting approval. This possibility will definitely not encourage more of the assumed 10,000 local growers to come forward. The fear in the mountains is palpable.

Many farmers are deciding to not farm. Some are already trying to sell, but with so many properties coming on the market, prices are rapidly falling. The first question from any prospective buyer is: “Does the parcel have a permit.?” If not, the price will be less, considerably so.

Here is the hidden issue: permits. Does the permit go with the land or with the grower? In the ordinance it is granted to the grower, it must be renewed annually, and it is not transferable. But what is actually being permitted? In reality, it is the land that is inspected for set backs, fencing, locks and legal water source. It is the land that is given the discharge waiver, the buildings that are permitted; it is the roads, streams, ponds, and slope gradient of the garden that are inspected. The only qualification for the farmer is to have grown previously, have no felony conviction, show proof of ownership of the land or permission to grow on it and present an agricultural plan of operation. 

It is indeed the land that must fulfill these conditions, not the grower. Once the land has been certified and its ecological impact is known, what difference does it make who actually does the farming as long as it meets the established criteria? Even if the farmer changes, the farm and thus the ecological impact will be the same. No new farm would be added to the county inventory. 

As the ordinance reads now, when a parcel in the Rangeland zoning district with a permitted grower sells (RL comprises about one third of the land area of the county), if the new owner has not previously had a permit on another parcel, the new owner will not be able to grow cannabis on that parcel.This drastically reduces the value of that land. It might be possible to hire a grower who previously had a permit to come farm the site, but this is unclear. This might create a class of permitted growers for hire. But if a permitted grower allows the permit to lapse for one year, that grower will not be able to get a permit in the future. Also, if a permitted grower moves from an Origin grow site to a Destination grow site, the right to grow on the origin site is extinguished. Why? No new cultivation site has been created, thus no new ecological impact. All this chicanery does accomplish one thing: it removes parcels from the list of permitted grow sites, working toward the BoS and DFW intention of getting all cannabis growers out of the mountains.

Where will the permit holder, who had to sell the land, grow in the future? He or she could only grow on a Rangeland site if that site had been previously permitted. Their only other option would be to buy on Ag Land, Upland Residential or Rural Residential-RR-10 acres whose value will now skyrocket. This will put it out of reach of the small grower forced to move or sell because they have been denied a permit or because cultivation in their zoning district is no longer allowed.  Their property has been suddenly devalued, their cannabis income removed and their mortgage payment due.  

When will it stop and settle down so we may simply resume farming the best plant on the planet to best of our capabilities? It is all too much. Time to chill out. And so, in honor of National Relaxation Week, now seems like a very good time for a hit of some nice CBD flowers. Lucky me, I have a choice of In The Pines, Doug OG or Queen of Hope. All are guaranteed to offer a good solid night’s sleep with hopefully no dreams of being at a Board of Supervisors meeting.

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