Past Time to Deal with Impacts of Pot

June, 2015

Over the last five or so years, we at the NEC—including our member organizations and others in our community—have been trying to wrap our minds around how to address the runaway industry in our hills that is sucking streams dry and laying waste to acres upon acres of forest.

In a certain sense, it was more straightforward when we were fighting a handful of corporations clearcutting ancient redwoods. Now, thousands of people hope to strike it rich by scraping away hillsides for plantations of a particular sticky green herb. Some cultivators are environmentally conscious, but they are substantially outgunned by those who are not—and conditions are getting exponentially worse with each passing day.

A lot can happen in five years. Anyone with a computer can now download Google Earth Pro for free—opening up the potential for spending countless hours poring over high-resolution satellite imagery. It doesn’t take long for the significance of the “green rush” to take hold, especially when comparing current conditions to years past. Fly over mega-grow hot spots such as Whitethorn, Alderpoint, Maple Creek and Trinity Pines and you may begin to wish you’d instead spent the hours watching a bad Hollywood movie.

Many of the sites actually look as if they are straight out of a Mad Max flick—decimated landscapes blotted with plastic protrusions, skeletons of trees heaped around and a renegade army’s worth of souped-up trucks on snaking, rutted-out roads. The explosion in the hills is nothing short of extreme, and there is no shortage of blame to go around for letting it get so out of hand.

It’s easy to get lost in the despair of exploring our contemporary gold rush this technology allows observers to easily compare the size and extent of operations today in relation to the thresholds being proposed locally and in Sacramento. There are currently five bills that are the frontrunners of proposed legislation regulating cannabis in California: AB 26 (Jones-Sawyer), AB 34 (Bonta), AB 266 (Cooley), AB 243 (Wood), SB 643 (McGuire)—the latter two are sponsored by our North Coast representatives. Of the five bills, AB 34 and AB 266 are perhaps the most heated. Growers and other cannabis proponents support AB 34, while law enforcement and advocates for local control stand behind AB 266.

While we support many elements in each of the bills, we are particularly concerned that AB 34 is off track on the scale of grows it promotes. AB 34 designates “small” operations as up to 10,000 square feet or 99 mature plants—both indoor and outdoor—and does not propose to limit the number of licenses in this tier.  The “medium” tier will allow operations up to 30,000 square feet (299 plants) in size. AB 34 also proposes a limited number of licenses under the “large outdoor” tier for operations over 30,001 square feet (500 plant cap). 
For a point of reference, two full size NBA basketball courts are just under 10,000 square feet—enough room to grow up to 1,000 pounds of processed bud. Even at $1,000/pound, that equals a one million dollar a year operation. Not limiting the number of “small” grows (up to 10,000 square feet) provides financial incentive that will inevitably lead to even more conversion of forestland and residences into commercial-scale cannabis operations.

California watersheds are already at a breaking point and our communities are suffering. Local governments need to step up to start remedying a disastrous situation—NOW. 
Unfortunately, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors continues to defer to a marijuana industry group, California Cannabis Voice Humboldt (CCVH), to write its own rules. The last six drafts are very concerning, because they effectively legitimize ongoing destructive operations. They also throw the door wide open for commercial-scale production on parcels over five acres throughout the County.

Regulatory agencies cannot keep up with environmental impacts on the ground as it is, and current proposals lack mechanisms to ensure the necessary funding for enforcement to protect sensitive salmon streams and get a handle on the black market forces that are bringing dangerous elements into our communities.

This is a critical time to urge our elected representatives to take the reins from the industry and draft a meaningful ordinance that will bring responsible cultivators into a taxed, regulated structure while taking the most egregious violators to task.

Join us in taking a stand for bringing this industry out of the shadows while protecting what is near and dear to us: healthy salmon runs, intact forests and safe, vibrant communities.

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