Sonoma County, California — Readers of this reporter’s August local and national articles on unpermitted cannabis growing expressed both appreciations and appropriate criticisms. Their feedback has made me aware of how complicated this issue is.
I am a patient at Peace in Medicine, a dispensary here in Sebastopol, California, and appreciate its CBD cannabis. It is essential to this 73-years-old person, as it is to other elders and those with a wide variety of health issues for which cannabis is an appropriate plant medicine.
Cannabis can be more healthy than some of the chemical medications to which people get addicted; it is better for one’s health than alcohol. Medications such as opioids can drastically worsen one’s health, create addictions, and even cause death.
“I got my cannabis card not to get stoned, which I am too old to do,” commented businessman Andy Cohen. “I use CBD topicals, as well as tinctures, because of my arthritis and gout. It works better than Tylenol or Ibuprofen. It doesn’t damage my liver or put a hole in my stomach.”
This article seeks to promote dialogue among cannabis growers, users, critics, government officials, and others. Participants in the expanding cannabis business have educated me about some of the complications, especially with respect to applying for permits and how expensive they are.
I support cannabis growing by locals on appropriate sites that do not damage water use by humans, other animals, and plants or harm nature in other ways. Such operations provide good agricultural employment for people. These small farms literally “keep families afloat,” as one cannabis farmer expressed.
Cannabis Growers and Allies Speak Up
I have visited small and medium-size cottage cannabis operations and been informed and impressed by responsible growers. Among the things they said are the following:
“The legalization of marijuana has opened a Pandora’s Box, which will have many unintended consequences.”
“We started growing high CBD medicinal cannabis for my cancer. We could not find it anywhere and realized we needed to grow it ourselves to insure purity and viability for my health. Unfortunately, we will also quit after this year’s harvest because of the severe and expensive regulations of the county. It’s heart-breaking that this vital medicine is being capitalized on and forcing intelligent, experienced growers out of the market.”
“I understand your frustration and anger with the recent opportunistic, irresponsible “wildcat” growers you are encountering, but I think it is a mistake to lump them together with people who have devoted their lives to improving marijuana strains and who feel strongly about the benefits it provides.”
“An impediment to getting small growers to apply for permits is that marijuana is still illegal as far as Federal law goes. Long-time small growers fear that by applying for permits they will become sitting ducks when and if the Feds decide to hold raids. Given the current political climate, this is a reasonable fear.”
“Mom and Pop cottage growers are being marginated by corporations.”
Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War is a recent book by Jonah Raskin. In a September article in the AVA (Anderson Valley Advertiser), from Mendocino County, he writes the following: “The cannabis story is a story of freedom and incarceration, a rags-to-riches story, as well as a tale about American capitalism, which will capitalize on anything and everything that’s profitable. Weed brings in big bucks.”
Sonoma County — along with the nearby Northern California Mendocino, Humboldt, and Marin counties — are the four largest growers of cannabis in the U.S. We are experiencing what some call the “green rush of capital” and the “corporatization of cannabis.” Multi-national corporations from outside that show little or no respect for the local environment or communities concerns many locals.
A September 10 New York Times article on Mendocino County reports that investors from Russia, China, Jamaica, Mexico, and Bulgaria are involved in marijuana growing there. Seven times more marijuana apparently is exported from California than used by the local market.
An estimated 5,000 cannabis cultivators exist in Sonoma County. That number may expand, since growing cannabis only became legal in 2016. Yet as of September 12 only 115 cannabis applications had been submitted. The August 31 deadline to submit an initial one-page application was extended to October 31, with the complete application due June 1, 2018.
“We want to see more cultivators coming out of the shadows and into the light,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. “The solution is to bring all these growers into compliance,” said cannabis attorney Omar Figueroa. “A crackdown doesn’t work. We don’t need more prohibition. We need regulation.”
Neighbors Complain About Un-permitted Grows
Various people contacted this reporter about incidents similar to the two unpermitted operations here in the Blucher Creek Watershed, which I previously reported that neighbors were able to get shut down. They were environmentally destructive and problematic, especially to families with young children. Our Bloomfield/Lone Pine/Cunningham Neighborhood Association connected other nearby neighbors to the correct code enforcement officer, who got unpermitted cannabis grows removed.
“In our rural residential neighborhood a stop work order was issued last week to the owner of an operation, but the grow and the work toward harvest continues. People are camping on the property in at least one trailer,” said one neighbor.
“There is no septic or legal electrical power or plumbing. The only water source is a man-made seasonal pond that dries up by this time. A non-permitted road was cut through the entire eighty acre parcel up to the top where there are at least six large grow houses, each approximately one thousand square feet in size,” he added.
“We are concerned for our wells and springs with regard to the clear cutting of so many trees and then shoving them off the ungraded dirt road, which will likely turn to sludge as the rains come. Everyone in this once peaceful neighborhood is mindful of our water supply and use; we all work to maintain our shared dirt driveway. We are painfully aware that two of the largest and extremely devastating fires in California history were caused by illegal grow set-ups such as this one in our tiny neighborhood,” he concluded.
Among the positive responses to our interventions to support our rural neighborhood have been the following: “The neighbors’ actions inspire me to rouse from my ‘it’s inevitable’ victim attitude toward possibly illegal cannabis operations. Taking action against rule breakers has nothing to do with whether we ourselves are cannabis consumers, or how we feel about the burgeoning pot culture,” wrote Randi Farkas.
“With the legalization of cannabis, it’s important to move towards county policies of accountability on everyone’s part, including growers, lawmakers, code enforcement, clearly articulated zoning laws and neighbors not looking the other way, but holding their neighbors accountable. I voted yes to legalize cannabis growing. I did not vote yes to support black-market businesses that suck the life out of our communities,” wrote Roberta Teller.
It is important for governmental agencies and members of our communities to come together to ensure that we continue to enhance our economy, while keeping the integrity of our neighborhoods and environment in tact.
As one successful rural activist said, “Public exposure is what gets the attention of elected officials.”