California Regulators Reportedly Step in to Save Mendocino Farmers

Industry insiders asked the state for help after the county failed to sort the situation out itself.

Things might be looking up for Mendocino County marijuana growers, since the state apparently has begun a requested intervention that stakeholders think may ultimately save hundreds of cannabis farms.

“This is the most optimism we’ve felt in this county in years,” said Genine Coleman, executive director of Origins Council, a trade organization that represents craft growers around the state.

It began, Coleman said, in February when the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance penned an urgent letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Department of Cannabis Control, telling them that a vast majority of local cannabis farms may go extinct unless drastic action was taken.

The county board approved a motion last month asking the DCC to come in and help, Coleman said. The DCC reacted and initiated conversations with county officials.

“Part of what they’ve discussed is the county radically streamlining the local program, so there’s a pretty significant process underway,” Coleman said. “The MCA and a team of advisors are working with the county to take a comprehensive look at the (county) ordinance, consider what kind of streamlining is possible, and working to get clarity regarding what the state is intending to propose.”

The situation also boiled over somewhat when now-former Mendocino County Cannabis Director Kristin Nevedal resigned last month, after testifying to a state oversight committee in mid-March that there was some sort of error with her reporting on several million dollars in state grant money.

In the midst of that upheaval, DCC Director Nicole Elliott told Mendocino County officials in a March 24 letter that the county had apparently been allowing cannabis farmers without state business permits to continue cultivating as if they were fully licensed and asked officials to correct that issue.

“Thus, there may be some in Mendocino County who have received local authorization to cultivate cannabis, even though their cultivation … in the absence of a state license is flatly illegal,” Elliott wrote. “We urge the County to align state and local law in this respect.”

For now, the DCC appears to be partially taking the reins in Mendocino County, Coleman said, in order to figure out how best to get hundreds of farmers into compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. That’s the state’s complex environmental rules that all businesses must comply with, and which one prominent cannabis attorney dubbed a “silent killer.”

That means the state intervention could end up saving hundreds of cannabis farms from losing their business permits, Coleman said, since the county has been unable to sort the situation out itself.

“We’re reaching a critical mass of awareness of how challenging that is and how unnecessary it is,” Coleman said of the state and local CEQA mandates.

“Things look like they’re moving in a good direction. I think that the letter from MCA did what it was intended to do, and so far so good. The political will is all there now. Things are moving very quickly,” she added.

There are still plenty of questions that have yet to be answered as far as what the state will actually do, how many farmers will be able to keep their licenses, and what the county’s fix may look like when policy meets the real world, but the answers should come relatively soon.

“The next month, a lot of things will play out, as far as what the solution will look like on the local and state side,” Coleman said.

John Schroyer

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