Pubdate: Wed, 08 Apr 2015
Source: East Bay Express (CA)
Column: Legalization Nation
Copyright: 2015 East Bay Express
Author: David Downs


Humboldt Assemblymember Jim Wood's tiny amendment to the state's 
water code is part of a groundbreaking new vision for marijuana agriculture.

The California Assembly plans to hold an unprecedented hearing on 
April 15 to examine a proposal to regulate a controversial, 
billion-dollar state crop: marijuana.

At first glance, Humboldt County Assemblymember Jim Wood's proposed 
regulation bill, the "Marijuana Watershed Protection Act" looks 
innocuous: It would add a single paragraph to the state's water code, 
and one to the health and safety code. But, in truth, AB 243 
represents a groundbreaking new vision for the future of California 
cannabis agriculture - especially when it comes to water use.

Under the proposed law, pot farms would have to follow the same 
environmental regulations that govern other farmers. Regional water 
boards would issue permits to pot farms, and then legal farms would 
operate in largely self-policing cannabis agriculture districts that 
would function much like ones that involve almond growers or other 
specialty, regional agriculture.

The proposed regulations are earth-shattering, said Hezekiah Allen, 
president of the Emerald Grower's Association. "In and of itself, [AB 
243] is relatively short and sweet, but what you're seeing is absolutely" huge.

Wood's bill would give several state agencies and regional water 
boards the green light to "address" pot cultivation's environmental 
impacts and "coordinate" on the issue. It also would make the state 
water board's marijuana pilot project - which has been working with 
pot farmers and has just released environmental best-practices 
guidelines - permanent and expand it throughout the state.

Wood said the bill is a homegrown response to pot's environmental 
impacts on the North Coast, which are analogous to strip mining and 
clear-cutting. Many well-intentioned but misinformed medical growers 
think they can steal water and trash streams, thereby threatening the 
extinction of Coho salmon and other species. "There's a perception 
out there that, 'This is my land, I can do whatever I want to my 
land,'" Wood said in an interview. And the reality is that with 
ownership comes responsibility, and you have a responsibility to not 
pollute and not to take water that isn't yours from your neighbor."

Industrial agriculture might hog the vast majority of the state's 
water, but pot's slim takings are magnified by their location in 
parched and stressed areas near streams.

A March study published by PLOS One found that in one severely 
affected study area, "three of the four watersheds evaluated [had] 
water demands for marijuana cultivation [that] exceed[ed] streamflow 
during low-flow periods."

Allen noted that the places least likely to manage water communally 
are also the ones most likely to entice pot farmers: They're rural and lawless.

"Certainly, in Trinity County, there isn't enough law enforcement to 
enforce anything up there, so it's pretty much, 'Come and do what you 
like and you're not going to get busted and if you are it's going to 
be a slap on the wrist because they're so inundated with cases,'" 
Wood said. AB 243 provides regional water boards the mandate they 
need to intervene, permit good farmers, and fine bad ones, Wood added.

On January 23, the state water board announced the results of a 
three-day inspection of marijuana grows in the Eel River watershed in 
Northern California. Members of the multi-agency task force didn't 
arrest anyone or rip out plants - instead, they poked around fourteen 
private properties in Sproul Creek, home to endangered Coho salmon. 
Sproul Creek went dry for the first time in 2014, "most likely a 
result of water diversions for marijuana cultivation" combined with 
the ongoing drought, a water board press release states. During the 
inspection, state water board officials found violations they intend 
to address, but regulators are seeking voluntary compliance in 
exchange for permits, rather than issuing fines - "much like [the 
board] regulates and monitors other activities on California's North 
Coast," the board's press release added.

If that doesn't work out, the California Department of Fish and 
Wildlife's Watershed Enforcement Team can serve warrants, cite 
growers, and confiscate crops. "We hope to not have to resort to 
those measures," stated Lieutenant DeWayne Little of Fish and Wildlife.

The water board expects to hand out a variety of permits in the 
coming weeks to farmers and more would come under AB 243. Cannabis 
agriculture districts could follow in the coming years. All of these 
steps provide a path for law-abiding growers to become normalized, 
Wood said. "The last thing we want to do is come in and say, 'We're 
here just like the old days to eradicate your grow,'" the 
Assemblymember added. "That's not what this is about. It's about 
educating people on best management practices and cleaning things up 
so we don't damage the environment."

Second-generation cultivator Casey O'Neill of Happy Day Farms lauded 
the state's progress during at a tasting event in San Francisco's 
Potrero Hill last weekend. O'Neill said officials have learned over 
decades that eradication doesn't work. He's ready to integrate his 
farm into mainstream society.

"That's what's been so great is to be able to talk to the regulators 
and say, 'No, I'm not compliant, but I want to be," he said. "We 
finally have made it through to that point where we can have an 
intelligent conversation."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom