Everyone's on Board with Regulation

“If you put marijuana on the agenda, they will come,” whispered the ghosts of old policy makers. And, lo, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board listened.

At a packed meeting this afternoon, the board discussed its proposed regulations for Northern California cannabis cultivators. It was the second time this week, following the board of supervisors hearing on a marijuana statement on Tuesday, that the halls of government hummed with an unusual presence of life.

Mark Lovelace addresses the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. (Grant Scott-Goforth)
Mark Lovelace addresses the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. (Grant Scott-Goforth)

During today’s meeting, water board staff outlined its proposed regulations, part of an ambitious permitting plan to bring private-land growers into compliance with water quality laws. The self-enrolled program would categorize growers into tiers based on the size and water impacts of their operations. Read more about the draft regulation here.

Perhaps even more remarkable than the attendance of perhaps 100 interested stakeholders, was the near universal support for the water board’s proposed regulations from environmentalists, government officials, and marijuana industry types.

Still, it being a public comment process, many suggested changes to the proposed ordinance.

A representative from Clean Green Certified, an organic cannabis certification company, suggested that the water board be cautious in asking people to register, so as not to create a list of self-identified growers for a still-prohibitive federal government to seize, should it decide to.

Water board chair John Corbett said the proposed regulations were written carefully in order to protect those registered as well as the staff of the board who drafted the ordinance. That caution extends to the ungodly title of the order: Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements and General Water Quality Certification for Discharges of Waste Resulting from Marijuana Cultivation and Associated Activities or Operations with Similar Environmental Effects. The board feels that “or” (emphasis ours) will protect potential enrollees from admitting that they grow marijuana.

Jen Kalt, speaking on behalf of the Northcoast Environmental Center, said the organization was generally supportive of the proposal, but urged the board to be careful not to draw enforcement resources away from other areas.

Humboldt County Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace called for collaboration with local regulatory agencies to make sure there isa clear delineation of responsibility for various land use, water, pollution and criminal activities.

“A lot of people in this industry have not yet had the joy of being part of the regulated community,” Lovelace said wryly. “It’s important for there to be a really easy front door for folks who are just learning how to get regulated. … One agency to refer them out to other agencies in the expanding regulatory fold.”

Lovelace also cautioned about language in the proposed draft that referred to 2,000 square-foot canopy limits and 2,000 square-foot cultivation areas, saying that those could be interpreted and practiced differently depending on the site.

Growers and medical marijuana patients expressed concerns about being protected should they volunteer compliance, about inconsistent regulations on home fruit and ornamental gardens, and about the impact on indoor grows, which are not addressed by the staff ordinance. Patrick Murphy, co-chair of California Cannabis Voice Humboldt, said that the specific guidelines should be loosened slightly to allow larger grows in the regulation’s first tier, but he thanked the board for its leadership on the issue.

Even Scott Greacen, the director of Friends of the Eel River who’s been vocal and obstinate in his criticism of the marijuana industry, said he appreciated the “thoughtful, realistic and progressive approach” the board was taking. He said enforcement was the area where the draft remains incomplete — “necessarily,” given the early stages of the program — and suggested more stringent requirements of the Tier 2 and Tier 3 sites.

[EDIT – Greacen followed up with the following email.]

“The point I was trying to make was not so much to suggest ‘more stringent requirements of the Tier 2 and Tier 3 sites,’ but that we should use growers’ expressed desire for larger legal sites as the incentive to drive rapid fixes for Tier 2 and 3 sites at watershed scale. The RB, county, or state could do that by issuing commercial-scale permits only for watersheds where Tier 2 and 3 sites are adequately addressed (eg plans in place, funding secured). Or designated ag land, of course.”

Corbett thanked Greacen for being an early challenger to the environmental damage of the industry — an unpopular position.

“Unfortunately,” Greacen said, “it still is.”