Outdoor Farmers Voice Cannabis Regulation Concerns

The International Cannabis Farmers Association paid a visit to Sacramento to help educate lawmakers on what they got wrong.

While cannabis consumers may not give much thought to the light deprivation techniques or co-mingling tactics employed to grow the flower they are enjoying, Kristin Nevedal does.

As the head of the International Cannabis Farmers Association (ICFA), Nevedal is an advocate for small, rural operations that most often rely on traditional, seasonal methods to sun-grow their flowers. With the state of California currently accepting public comment on the proposed regulations that will take place in 2018, Nevedal led a group of several dozen farmers in a series of workshops at the Capitol in Sacramento on June 8, before dedicating the afternoon to educating policymakers on the basics of outdoor growing, and how some aspects of the new regulations may place these growers at a disadvantage.

“[Lawmakers] did a pretty good job of doing a deep dive into cultivation,” she says. “There are a lot of things they got right. The thing is it’s really easy access to all-season cultivation. All-season cultivation is a very different way of farming, and so I think it’s easy for them to not understand how some of these pieces really affect a season farmer who has geographic terrain and infrastructure limitations.”

She also says that a big part of the ICFA’s work is getting the voices of rural farmers heard in the halls of the Capitol.

“One of the challenges is that the regulators are predominantly in Sacramento,” Nevedal says. “It’s really hard to get out into the more rural portions of California where seasonal farmers are more predominant.”

Based on the feedback of many farmers collected by the ICFA, Nevedal says there are several areas that have raised the most concern.

The first has to do with the type of licenses to be issued. Growers who wish to receive outdoor licenses are prohibited from using light deprivation techniques, which Nevedal explains currently covers the common practice of pulling a curtain over an outdoor crop to help shorten the lifecycle of the plant. Instead, any growers who engage in light deprivation would be forced to apply for mixed light permits, a move that she believes would throw off the economic balance of the industry.

“Outdoor farmers are using only sunlight to flower their crops,” she explains, “so that should not force them into a mixed light category where farmers can use artificial light to help with flower production, meaning that they can flower year round. Pushing all of these little farmers into that category is going to make it really hard for them from a scale-of-economy perspective.”

Nevedal also worries that if outdoor farmers are forced to take mixed light licenses, they may simply switch tactics to meet demand.

Another issue is rules prohibiting the co-mingling of batches. The current regulations state that a batch is defined by the date at which it’s harvested. Nevedal points out that this distinction means that if a farmer were to plant three separate beds at two week intervals – beds with “the same genetics, same medium, same environment, same native soil, same air, same water” – they would still be considered separate. In short, this means that farmers would be unable to take the leftover product from those three beds and combine them into a fourth batch, despite the fact that it is literally the flower.

This rule would also affect patients. Co-mingling is a tactic often used in non-manufactured products like pre-rolled cannabis cigarettes, where a THC-rich strain and a CBD-rich strain may be ground together to produce a desired ratio.

“Under these proposed regulations, you will not be able to blend to create products like that. Those products will cease to exist. They would be one varietal harvested at one date only, and so you won’t have cannabis cigarettes that are blended with THC and CBD,” she says.

A third issue arises from how farmers are allowed to designate the space they intend to grow on. Law has long required that farmers not exceed the square footage specifically allotted to their grow, but the new regulations take things further by demanding that farmers designate separate propagation areas from their flowering areas. Nevedal says that the practice of recouping propagation space and repurposing it as flowering space over the course of a grow season is a “very, very common and efficient practice” and feels the new regulations are simply unfeasible for many farmers with geographical limitations or uneven sun exposure.

“Basically it ends up balancing out. Flower space goes from 75 percent to 100 percent [of the allotted square footage] and nursery from 25 percent to zero percent. What we’re suggesting is that they allow this, but that people have to use their track and trades, and they have to know when something goes into flower,” she says. “They can at no time exceed their allotted square footage for flowering area, but they absolutely should be able to utilize that flowering area that they’re getting a license for to also nursery their plants that are coming in.”

Getting policymakers to understand how farming works is a pivotal piece of the ICFA’s plan to ensure California updates these undesirable elements of the law. During her time at the Capitol, Nevedal met with the office for Assemblyman Jim Wood and State Senator Mike McGuire, as well as a number of legislative aides.

“The reception was fabulous,” Nevedal says. “People were listening. I have confidence that these are mostly oversights—just a lack of understanding. The CDFA [California Department of Food and Agriculture] has done a pretty good job of listening too. I expect they’ll be listening to comments, and I expect a lot of comments in these areas.”

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