Humboldt County will become one of several testing grounds the state’s CalCannabis division will use this year to determine how best to monitor the thousands of cannabis farms in the state with limited staff and resources.

This pilot project launching this month by the California Department of Agriculture division is testing whether local agricultural inspectors, including those in Humboldt County, can inspect farm compliance with both local and state marijuana laws.

CalCannabis supervising special investigator Tabatha Chavez told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday the cannabis industry presents a rare opportunity to build a regulatory program from the ground up.

“You guys are one jurisdiction within about 500 jurisdictions within the state between cities and counties that we have to be cognizant of,” Chavez told the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “We are trying to develop a program from the start that supports that and integrates us. This contract, I believe, will be a cornerstone to that.”

Humboldt County agricultural/weights and measures inspector Bryan Atkinson inspects a local cannabis farm in March. County inspectors will be aiding the state in inspecting farms for compliance in both local and state cannabis laws as part of a pilot program launched this month. (Jeff Dolf, Contributed)

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a contract with the state to become one of seven counties that will participate in the pilot project. The other participating counties are Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Trinity and Mendocino.

County agricultural inspectors will be tasked with inspecting 375 farms between May and November to ensure the farms are following state laws. At the same time, these inspectors will still be evaluating the farmer’s compliance with local laws and pesticide laws, county Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Dolf said last week.

California cannabis businesses must have a permit from their local jurisdiction and a license from the state government to be legal.

The county will be paid about $74,900 by the state — or about $200 per inspection — to carry out these inspections, which covers personnel, mileage and supplies, according to the county staff report. Whether or not this reimbursement is enough to actually cover the county’s costs will also be tested as part of the pilot program.

Chavez said CalCannabis’ compliance and enforcement branch has only seven staff members to oversee 3,700 cultivation licences.

CalCannabis and the two other state departments that oversee cannabis businesses are set to open a Eureka office — located on the first floor of the Times-Standard building — in the future, which Chavez said will eventually include more state staff.

Dolf said it is obvious that there are more than 375 local farms that will need to be inspected for state compliance. Chavez said despite their minute staffing, their branch has been able to inspect about 1,000 farms throughout the state and will continue doing so in Humboldt County. She said she has also requested Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature include another $750,000 in the state budget to allow the state to continue paying counties to conduct state compliance inspections.

“I don’t think we can do this in a vacuum,” Chavez said. “I don’t think it would be responsible for us to try to undertake this by ourselves.”

Tracking the industry

Humboldt County Growers Alliance Executive Director Terra Carver, whose organization represents 169 industry members, said that while she supports the inspection program, she also urges the state to launch its track-and-trace program as soon as possible.

Humboldt County was the first local government in the state to launch a cannabis track-and-trace program, which works to ensure legal cannabis products are not diverted to the black market and vice versa.

The statewide track-and-trace system works in a similar fashion, but will only be used on businesses that have obtained year-long licenses.

So far, the state has only issued temporary licenses for cannabis businesses, in part because it has yet to finalize its rules for the industry and does not expect to until near the end of the year. These annual licenses could be issued starting as soon as July, with 150 year-long cultivation license applications currently in the vetting process, Chavez said.

But temporary licenses can also be extended, which Chavez said will likely result in there being businesses operating on temporary licenses — and therefore not participating in the track-and-trace system — through early 2019.

Without a statewide tracking network in place, Carver said it feels like Humboldt County’s cannabis industry dressed up for the party, but no one else did.

“It’s not just the unregulated market, it’s also the regulated market that needs to uphold some integrity through the supply chain,” Carver said to the board. “… We are ready to go and we’re finding that the supply chain downstream is not as ready as we are.”

Related: State gives marijuana businesses more time to get licensed, comply with new regulations

Fifth District Supervisor and board Chairman Ryan Sundberg also voiced concern about the delay.

“Having nonpermitted farms sell to dispensaries and not holding them accountable for track-and-trace and bumping these timelines out is absolutely devastating to people who have paid all this money to go through compliance and are paying taxes and all the other stuff,” Sundberg said.

Chavez said that it might be comforting to know that the track-and-trace system will likely go online much sooner for dispensaries, testing labs and transportation businesses — which are regulated under the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Cannabis Control.

The state has issued nearly 3,700 temporary cultivation licenses as of Tuesday. About 700 of these have been issued for Humboldt County businesses, making it the local jurisdiction with the second highest number of licenses in the state, Chavez said.

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