Only a few days away from California’s cannabis market opener, a group of state regulators, lawmakers and cannabis industry groups are divided on whether marijuana farms should be capped at 1 acre per person.
Last week, three Democratic state legislators, including two who helped write the state’s medical cannabis laws, called for immediate legislative hearings to take place in January to implement 1 acre per person marijuana cultivation cap.
“We shouldn’t create regulations that favor industrial-scale operations at the expense of the small farmers that created this industry,” state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said in a statement. “The cannabis industry is an exciting and growing part of our economy. It will create opportunities for small businesses throughout our state, and we must be careful to create balanced regulations that provide a level playing field.”
Proponents of the cap say it will protect smaller farmers from being outcompeted by larger companies, while state officials and other groups have said a cap is not mandated under the state’s cannabis laws.
The conflict comes after the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which is tasked with regulating cannabis cultivation, released an environmental review of its proposed emergency rules for cannabis cultivation in mid-November. The 1-acre cultivation cap was included in the environmental document, but was not included in the actual rules that were released a few days later.
The department later told the Eureka Times-Standard in November that the change came after input from stakeholders. Earlier this month, the department added that a 1-acre cap had never been proposed “at any point” in the state’s medical and recreational cannabis laws.
The department’s spokesman Steve Lyle wrote to the Times-Standard in an email that the cap was not included in the emergency rules because Proposition 64, the 2016 ballot measure that legalized recreational use and sales of cannabis, did not provide the authority to include a cap.
California Growers Association Executive Director Hezekiah Allen called the decision to remove the cap a “last-minute change that flies in the face of what the backers of Prop. 64 promised.”
“This single decision will hand over the California marketplace to multi-national corporations and a wealthy few at the expense of thousands of growers who are ready to play by the rules and provide economic opportunity in communities that until recently were criminalized or — at the very least — marginalized,” Allen said in a statement this week.
Another industry group, the California Cannabis Industry Association called on the state to not include the cap in a letter to the Department of Food and Agriculture earlier this month. The association’s communications and outreach director Josh Drayton said Wednesday that much of the conversation about the 1-acre cap not being included has been “dragged away from the truth,” especially because the state’s cannabis laws that the emergency cultivation rules are based off of do not include the cap.
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Cannabis cultivation limits have shifted in the two years since the state began to regulate the industry.
The state’s medical cannabis rules adopted in 2015 did not allow a person to grow more than 1 acre of cannabis with exception to a dispensary license that allowed up to 4 acres of cultivation. Proposition 64 did not impose a cap on the number of cultivation licenses, but also prohibited the state from issuing licenses for grows of more than 1 acre until 2023.
The state Legislature merged the medical and recreational laws together this year through Senate Bill 94, which also did not include a 1-acre cap. The bill does cap the number of 1-acre cultivations licenses to one per person, but still allows the person to obtain other smaller cultivation size licenses.
Drayton said their association’s membership and board have yet to weigh in on whether they would support a legislative amendment to implement a cap, but stated strategic policies can’t be based on cultivation alone.
“We need to take into account these other factors. We will definitely be involved in the conversation and want to make sure that we create solutions that will benefit the small farmers and not just Band-Aids,” Drayton said.
Former Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos sat on Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy in 2015, which provided information that led to the creation of Proposition 64. Gallegos said in a statement this week that the state would have little ability to control the cannabis industry if it were to be “taken over by corporate interests.”
“Unfortunately, the new regulations create a situation where opportunity belongs to those with money and small farms, small businesses and individuals are given the Hobson’s choice of giving up on trying to make a living in the industry or operating illegally,” he said.
Local governments can still limit the size of cannabis farms. Humboldt County currently limits cannabis farms to a maximum of four acres, but is proposing to allow for larger farms in certain cases. These expanded cultivation rules and others relating to the cannabis industry are part of a draft ordinance set to go before the board of supervisors in February.
County Planning and Building Director John Ford previously told the Times-Standard that only a handful of people have applied for permits to grow more than 1 acre.
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