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California cannabis trade group Origins Council seeks regulatory relief in Sacramento

A nonprofit trade association representing cannabis farmers in five California growers’ groups is launching a $100,000 matching-funds campaign to secure state lobbyists to work on a number of issues affecting growers, it announced Feb. 1.

Founded in 2019, the Origins Council’s most pressing challenge this year involves coaxing the Legislature to extend provisional licenses these growers obtain while they await final state regulatory approvals.

Without help in Sacramento, farmers say they face mounds of red tape to get permanent licenses to grow cannabis, risking collapse of their markets if they don’t succeed. Meeting the requirements may be time consuming and expensive.

The council serves 500 members in five groups of cannabis growing regions in California. They include the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, Big Sur Farmers Association, Trinity County Agriculture Alliance and the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance. The latter represents Happy Day Farms grower Casey O’Neill of Bell Springs, located north of Laytonville.

“We’re thrilled the Origins Council is ready to take these steps,” O’Neill told the Business Journal of his 1-acre vegetable and cannabis farm in Mendocino County. “Farmers at the Capital are under-represented. But I need to be on the farm.”

The provisional licenses to operate, which are granted by the state as temporary fixes until full state and local government approvals are met, will sunset at the end of this year.

Mendocino, Sonoma and Lake counties have 811, 109 and 280 provisional licenses on record with the state, respectively.

Many farmers’ permanent licenses to operate are often hung up in regulatory applications that resembles planning and building permits.

There are 5,181 active provisional cannabis cultivation licenses in the state.

O’Neill’s concern lies with meeting California Environmental Quality Act and Department of Water Resources standards. For one thing, his farm sits on a steep slope along the rainy North Coast, a ripe prescription for storm water runoff that interlocking, sometimes unforgiving state agencies may have little sympathy for.

“Each farm has its different challenges,” he said. “But we keep fighting the good fight.”

Origins Council Executive Director Genine Coleman, who met O’Neill through their work with the California Growers Association, applauds the farmers’ diligence and wants to help them in any way she can.

“It’s been a hard go,” she told the Business Journal. “Between COVID and the fires, it’s already been a challenge.”

The primary focus of the trade group’s lobbying efforts rides on the passage of Senate Bill 59 introduced in December by state Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas. It extends provisional licenses until July 2028 to offer more time to farmers trying to comply with state laws.

“Unless the legislation that is currently proposed within Senate Bill 59 is successful, and the provisional licensing program gets extended, the state could see the entire licensed supply chain collapse,” she said.

Mendocino, Sonoma and Lake counties have 811, 109 and 280 provisional licenses on record with the state, respectively.

Cannabis farming has proven to be difficult over the last few years in California, especially given raging wildfires. With his farm situated 10 miles from one of the worst of last summer’s blazes — the Mendocino Complex — O’Neill figured he lost about 15% of his crops from smoke damage.

“It affects the smell more than the taste,” he said.

The California Legislature, at the urging of the Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office, is now grappling with methods to reduce the year-after-year destruction associated with these dangerous, economically-devastating infernos.

“It’s been harder and harder to deal with these extremes,” he said.

The Origins Council has recognized the rollout of legalization fraught with challenges, with some farms in productive regions encountering significant barriers for entry or sustaining compliance.

The association hopes to draw on the quick experience it’s already gained working on other massive cannabis legal, regulatory efforts.

For instance, the council spearheaded the Cannabis Appellations Program, which allows for the marketing of the products by region. The designations program signed into law last October was initially drafted and launched by the California Department of Food and Agriculture in January. The program, which has been postponed since, mimics the wine industry’s American Viticultural Areas. Like the new cannabis-related program, these AVAs may provide geographic designations to product labels. No cannabis appellations have been designated so far.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was changed to remove OC Regional Council as among the members of the Origins Council and to update the postponement of the Cannabis Appellations Program.

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 25 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times in San Diego County, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. She graduated from Fullerton College. Reach her at 530-545-8662 or susan.wood@busjrnl.com

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