There was once upon a time when California was the model of cannabis reform. In 1996, California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana; and many expected the Golden State to be the first to legalize recreational marijuana.
Sadly, that opportunity came and went. Now after years of poor medical marijuana oversight and conflicting county regulations, California stands to backslide on marijuana instead of lead the way in reform.
In recent years, a disturbing trend of county and municipal authorities banning outdoor medical marijuana cultivation has begun to take shape in California. Outdoor marijuana cultivation is one of the cheapest cannabis production methods, and in the right conditions can produce comparable yields to indoor production.
Currently, there are at least three California counties considering bans on outdoor medical marijuana cultivation: Yuba, Galt and El Dorado. In addition to those counties, a California judge recently threw out an appeal by the ACLU aimed at overturning an outdoor cultivation ban in Fresno County. The ACLU has a little less than a month left to appeal the decision.
As easy as it would be to blame the bans on buzz kills and prohibitionists hopped up on “Reefer Madness,” some of the people pushing for outdoor cultivation bans raise legitimate points. According to the Appeal-Democrat, Yuba County resident Mike Lee expressed his concerns to the County Board of Supervisors.
“I have seen our neighborhood go from being nice and peaceful to being a war zone,” Lee said. “I have a neighbor who fires an automatic weapon and there has been livestock killed by guard dogs.” California’s inability to reign in bad actors is causing a cannabis backlash and the only people getting hurt are the responsible ones.
Aside from just generally making bad neighbors, there is also a fear that irresponsible outdoor grow operations will aggravate California’s already sensitive water crisis. With the threat of drought constantly looming overhead, every drop of water counts.
Scott Bauer of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife spoke with NBC about the drought risk presented by marijuana grows. “If this activity continues on the trajectory it’s on, we’re looking at potentially streams going dry, streams that harbor endangered fish species like salmon, steelhead.” No matter what industry you’re in, threatening an endangered species is never good for business.
There is nothing inherently wrong with outdoor marijuana grow operations, but when the rules are vaguely written and poorly enforced, bad actors arise that ruin the system for others.
Bad regulations will hurt your bottom line; and the fact of the matter is that none of these regressive bans would have happened if the state’s cannabis industry wasn’t so disorganized. Take a look at California’s cannabis laws by city and county and see if you can make sense of it. If regulations were uniform across the state, there might not be so many issues.
California cannabis is currently at a crossroads. In 2016, California will try to legalize recreational marijuana again; and if it does, it will face a crisis in trying to align recreational and medical markets. Regulating a medicinal market after recreational marijuana is passed is a difficult thing to do, just ask Washington.
If California wants 2016 to be its marijuana moment, it is going to have to get its house in order. The legislature must reform medical marijuana now before it is stuck regulating two systems at once. Otherwise, investment into California’s cannabis market will be fraught with uncertainty and lost revenue.