Cannabis Regulation

In recent years, many states (including California and Oregon) have legalized first medicinal, and then adult use of cannabis. As with any type of agriculture, proper cannabis cultivation requires creation and enforcement of sensible regulations governing land and water usage, and preventing harmful pesticide contamination, destruction of wildlife habitat and other ill effects.

Our friends at the Environmental Protection Information Center, located by the North Coast’s prime cannabis-growing country, have gathered extensive factual information and developed well-considered positions on best practices for regulation and enforcement. Their website’s “Compliant Cannabis Agriculture” section is a great starting place for learning more about this industry and related issues.

Cannabis cultivation types include:

  • Medical or non-medical home gardens
  • Commercial grows (with different rules for various California and Oregon counties)
  • Trespass grows on either private (mainly timber company) or public lands

The “trespass grows” are factually of the greatest environmental concern. Such growers have little interest in tax or regulatory compliance, seeking only profit.  They continue to resist even the most beneficial and sensible practices by diverting streams and using banned pesticides.

Scientific research has further documented the detrimental effects of these illegal operations. For example, a recent UC Davis study found rat poisons to be present in spotted owl populations. We cannot be blind to such well-founded concerns – but how do we address them in a way that works?

Economic incentives continue to exist for the illegal operations. And as an environmental organization, we of course want to eliminate inappropriate and irresponsible trespass grows and promote best practices.

However, one argument makes no sense: that because some grows are damaging, that means all grows are therefore bad. This is not the case; making compliance difficult or impossible of course encourages illegal activity. The US Attorney General created uncertainty when he attacked state cannabis laws. High taxes, constantly changing, costly regulations, plus new well-financed producers entering the market have driven cannabis prices down and reduced profits. As a result, EPIC has noticed increases in illegal cultivation.

We think the answers are best found in the middle. Cannabis cultivation, processing and distribution should be taxed and regulated no differently than any other agricultural crop, on land appropriately zoned and amenable to that activity – thus leaving out those harmful trespass and other problematic grows.

If followed, many new legal requirements are ecologically beneficial. Pesticides are prohibited, and water quality should be measured scientifically. This allows informed decisions on what to do about not only trespass grows, but also about many other local sources of environmental harm from human activities.

In California, the Board of Cannabis Control issues licenses for various types of cannabis businesses. The CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing division of the California Department of Food and Agriculture licenses cultivators, who are also subject to California Water Boards and locally, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board regulations.

As long as restrictive national and international laws make it impossible or impractical to grow cannabis in an environmentally and socially responsible way, the black market will exist, and create incentives for illegal operations that care nothing for the environment. We must recall that Al Capone’s bootlegging gang wasn’t much of a problem once Prohibition ended.

Properly managed, cannabis and related products (such as industrial hemp) will contribute to a healthy, stable economy in our area. We must take a factual, scientific approach. Good laws must require testing, measuring and mitigating adverse impacts – principles that should apply to all crops, including both cannabis and other farming operations.

– Andy Fusso