Q: Is cannabis legal?
A: Cannabis is in the process of coming out of prohibition. The federal government still lists cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and there is a movement within the United States Senate, spearheaded by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), to fully legalize cannabis in the United States. By 2017, eight states had legalized cannabis for medical and recreational use (Alaska, California, Colorado, Oregon, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada and Washington). The District of Columbia has legalized personal use but not commercial sale. There are 21 States that allow medicinal use only.
Federal laws on cannabis continue to be contradictory. On January 4, 2018, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memorandum which opened the door for US Attorneys to enforce federal laws related to marijuana; however, the Leahy amendment (formerly known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment) is still effective, which protects States legal medical cannabis activities from federal law enforcement. It is expected that laws will continue to be contradictory until such time as cannabis becomes fully legal in the United States.
In California, cannabis legalized through the ballot process for medicinal use in 1996 and recreational use in 2016. Proposition 64 (2016) passed with 51.7% of the vote (Napa voted 61.2%) creating space for local jurisdictions to craft their own regulations for growth and distribution. Each county and city in California is moving through the regulatory process for both personal and commercial use creating a cacophony of regulations.
In Napa County, the five city jurisdictions and the county are all engaged in community discussions about how to best protect the Napa Valley while allowing those that want to engage with cannabis the ability to do so. In Napa County, the Board of Supervisors are moving towards placing a temporary moratorium on commercial cannabis activities in the unincorporated areas as they review the Statewide regulations and see how other jurisdictions are managing bringing cannabis out of prohibition.
Q: Does farming cannabis harm our environment or create greater impacts on our soil or water than existing farming methods?
A: Legalizing cannabis for commercial activities brings the farming of the crop under existing rules and regulations and allows for better protection of our environment and land. Agriculture in Napa County is a highly regulated industry and when cannabis is allowed to be grown commercially, cannabis farmers will abide by existing regulations including erosion control plans, stream set-backs, the hillside ordinance and pesticide/fertilizer regulations among others.
Specifically, when grown outside in the soil and sunshine, cannabis is an annual plant that grows from spring to fall allowing for one crop per year. The plant does fall into the thirsty category; however, it has a shorter growing season and doesn’t need to be protected from frost. When planting the soil is augmented with what you need and is replenished each year.
Q: Will cannabis bring in more crime to Napa County?
A: As cannabis is still listed as a Schedule I drug, the banking industry continues to prohibit commercial cannabis operations from engaging in financial markets. This prohibition has created a cash market, which appeals to criminal elements. In California, efforts are being made to create a financial market to reduce the amount of cash in the industry and thus creating safer communities. Many dispensaries are now accepting debit cards reducing the amount of cash moving around our communities.
When growing outdoors, safety measures can be implemented to increase the safety of crops and the community including fencing, security when the crop is viable, and creating genetic markers to identify crops. Full legalization will also reduce the demand for the black market and the criminality of the product.
Q: Does cannabis legalization create unsafe driving conditions?
A: Cannabis impairs the ability to drive and those utilizing the product must act accordingly. Devices to test for cannabis roadside are in the works, much like a breathalyzer for alcohol impairment, and law enforcement offices have been trained to focus on identifying signs of impairment, and they can cite or arrest impaired drivers as they would for alcohol or narcotics.
Q: Will farming cannabis threaten the wine industry? Will vines be removed to plant cannabis? How many trees will be removed?
A: The State of California is limiting the size of outside commercial cannabis grows based on individual parcels and you can only plant a small portion of your existing property to cannabis. With these limitation, commercial cannabis can be a strong alternative crop creating additional revenue for farmers and ranchers.
Q: How do we protect our youth from gaining access to cannabis?
A: It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to access cannabis for medicinal purposes and anyone under the age of 21 for recreational use. Legalization and opening dispensaries help with reducing the ability of youth to gain access to cannabis as selling to minors will cause businesses to lose their license.
In addition, education and outreach on the dangers of utilizing cannabis before the brain can fully develop can be shared with our schools and youth.
Q: How are other jurisdictions managing cannabis legalization? What can we learn from them?
A: At this time, there are 8 states that have legalized cannabis for medical and recreational use (Alaska, California, Colorado, Oregon, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada and Washington). The District of Columbia has legalized personal use but not commercial sale. There are 28 States that have approved medicinal usage on the books. In October 2017, Gallup reported that 64% of Americans favored legalization. While legalization is increasing, not only in each state, but each county has different rules and regulations regarding personal and commercial cannabis activities creating an overwhelming regulator environment.
Our closest neighbors, Sonoma, Solano, and Lake are moving their way through legalization. Sonoma is open for business for growing, producing and selling cannabis. Lake is open for growing and selling. Solano has approved medical cultivation.
Q: Isn’t there an over-supply of cannabis in California?
A: There is an over-supply of black market cannabis in California. However, State regulations are going to require cannabis that is going to be sold in legal dispensaries to be tested for molds, pesticides and other pathogens prior to being sold. This rigorous testing will reduce the supply available for legal purchase. In addition, Apothecarium, a dispensary in San Francisco, has lines out-the-door since cannabis was legalized for recreational use on January 6.
Q: Will the cannabis industry affect the labor pool in Napa County?
A: As the State has limited the size of cannabis gardens, growers can add it to an existing farming operations. In the wine industry, there are slower times of the year for farmworkers and adding a financially viable crop to the rotation can increase the work load, create opportunities for learning more farming methods and potentially increase hourly wages for employees.