Name-brand cannabis products are on display at a dispensary in Sacramento called A Therapeutic Alternative. (Photo by Laurel Rosenhall for CALmatters)

Northern California

New bill aims to help Northern California pot growers protect their geographical identity

North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire introduced a bill this week that would prohibit marijuana businesses from using both the name of a California county or any name that appears similar to it unless their cannabis is produced in that county.

Reached Wednesday afternoon, McGuire (D-Healdsburg) said the bill, while only adding a few clauses to existing law, would protect counties for years to come from companies “improperly capitalizing” on their name.

“A similar battle was fought several years ago by the wine industry and it was resolved by legislation that prevented individuals and corporations from making marketing claims that weren’t true, or what we call ‘alternative facts’ these days,” McGuire said. “This legislation is all about truth in labeling.”

Under Proposition 64 and the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, it is illegal for marijuana products to use the name of a California county in the product’s labeling, marketing or packaging if the marijuana was not grown in that county. McGuire’s Senate Bill 175 expands those prohibitions to include “any similar sounding name that is likely to mislead consumers as to the origin of the product.”

Humboldt County Chamber of Commerce Treasurer and permitting consultant Dani Burkhart stated the modifications in McGuire’s bill are important to protect the cannabis cultivation “prestige” of the Emerald Triangle counties — Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity.

“Not only is this important for the farmers and the county to protect the brand, but it’s incredibly important for consumer protection because they have the right to know,” Burkhart said.

The bill is a direct response to North Coast cannabis farmers’ concerns over businesses using brands and names that allude to the Emerald Triangle counties in order to bolster their product sales, even if the product isn’t produced there.

One company, hmbldt, which produces medical cannabis vaporizer dosage pens, has drawn criticism from some Humboldt County cannabis producers. While the company is based in different areas of the state, it obtains its marijuana exclusively from more than 250 farms in Humboldt County — thus making it compliant with current laws.

“The best cannabis in the world and the best genetics come from Humboldt County so all of our partner farms are in Humboldt County,” hmbldt CEO Matt Seashols said in a previous interview with the Times-Standard.

McGuire said the bill was solely directed at closing any loopholes in the legislation regarding branding and labeling.

“If they source the product from Humboldt then the label will clearly state that,” he said.