Frequently Asked Questions
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What is Measure AF?
Measure AF – The Mendocino Heritage Act, is a Mendocino voter initiative on the November ballot to tax a regulate all commercial medical cannabis activity in unincorporated Mendocino County. It was written to be in accord with new state laws governing commercial medical cannabis activity and Mendocino County’s existing agricultural ordinances and zoning provisions.
Why do we need AF?
In 2015, the State of California passed historic legislation to regulate medical cannabis, the Medical Cannabis Regulation & Safety Act (MCRSA). The MCRSA designates medical cannabis as an agricultural product, to be regulated by the Department of Agriculture. The MCRSA specifically states that prospective participants in this newly regulated industry may not obtain state licenses unless they first obtain locally issued permits, thus opening the doors for counties and cities to follow suit and regulate locally.
Isn’t County Government working on their own ordinance?
Community stakeholders have been working for years with the Board of Supervisors, County Staff and the Agricultural Commissioner to educate them about the cannabis industry and regulation needs. This year the Board of Supervisors created a draft ordinance for cultivation, which is currently under environmental review, and we do not know when this review will be complete.
In the interim the County passed a special urgency ordinance for cannabis cultivation, which offered permits to over 300 Mendocino cannabis farmers before it was closed to applicants, due to a lawsuit leveraged from a local organization,The Black Tail Deer Association. This limited permitting program expires in the Spring. There is a strong possibility for further lawsuits against the county’s permanent cultivation draft ordinance once it emerges from environmental review.
Does AF have to go through an environmental review?
Voter initiatives are written by citizens, not government agencies with significant staff support, legal teams and review budgets. Voter initiatives are exempt from CEQA review (California Environmental Quality Act) based on legal precedent in California, which means that this policy is less vulnerable to costly lawsuits and delays.
What does AF have to do with state law?
If Measure AF is adopted, it will be implemented in conjunction with state laws, namely the Medical Cannabis Regulation & Safety Act (MCRSA) and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Boards’ Cannabis Cultivation Waste Discharge Program. This tandem regulation system mandates rigorous environmental protections and sets quality & safety standards for operations & management practices.
Can AF be amended?
Policy must change over time. Measure AF is amendable, and it empowers the Board of Supervisors to make changes to the permitting program to continue to meet the needs of all county residents as of June of 2018.
The only provision is that any amendments be made in alignment with the intent of this voter initiative stated in the opening statements:
- The voters of Ca passed Prop 215 in 1996.
- Prop 215 is intended to help relieve patients by supporting access to medical cannabis.
- The California Medical Marijuana Program Act allows cannabis patients & caregivers to operate cooperatively.
- MCRSA is state law regulating commercial medical cannabis activity.
- Cannabis has cultural & economically significance to Mendocino County, and encourages farmers to work in a sustainable way.
- The people of Mendocino county desire to have a regulated cannabis industry and to stop the negative impacts of the black market.
- All information about citizens operating under this ordinance will be kept confidential.
Does AF offer permitting for all cannabis activity?
The County draft ordinance would only permit cultivation & nursery operations, leaving out permitting for manufacture, transportation, distribution, testing & dispensaries. Measure AF permits all of these activities, mirroring the state licenses being offered by MCRSA.
Why was Measure AF drafted as a citizens initiative & who wrote it?
Measure AF was written by small farmers and local business owners with input from our friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, professional & agency advisors, and Mendocino County residents that have been impacted by an unregulated industry. It was a thoughtful process to regulate the industry for the benefit of the entire community. With over 4,000 petition signatures, Measure AF qualified for the November 2016 ballot. Measure AF was written to meet the immediate & urgent needs of our community in this local climate of regulatory uncertainty.
Did AF include a public review process?
Public review is a process mandated in the development of county legislation by elected officials working on behalf of their voter’s interests. It is a form of checks and balances ensuring stakeholder input and limiting the abuse of public office. Measure AF is a voter initiative, which is a form of lawmaking in which citizens draft a proposed law, demonstrate significant public support for the proposition, validated by number of supporting signatures collected (in this case 4,000), in order to qualify for the ballot. It is then up to the will of the voters to decide if this citizens initiative becomes law. A voter initiative is by definition entirely a public review process.
How does AF protect our environment?
In order to understand how AF protects our environment, you first have to understand the complex regulatory system that AF will be implemented within, and how this relates to various local and state agencies, and their various mandated standards.
AF requires that local agencies responsible for issuing County permits first establish standard operating procedures and regulations therein that match or exceed state mandated standards. The Mendocino County Department of Planning and Building Services for manufacturing, transportation & distribution permits; Mendocino County Health and Human Services for dispensary & lab testing permits. The Mendocino County Department of Agriculture will issue permits for cultivation, the operating requirements for which are outlined in AF and further subject to requirements outlined in state law. The Department of Pesticide Regulation will promulgate pesticide use regulations for the indoor or outdoor cultivation.
Measure AF will be implemented in tandem with both state MCRSA licenses and the provisions of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQB) Cannabis Cultivation Waste Discharge Program, which will be enforced by a joint task force comprised of multiple agencies; Ca Water Board, Fish & Wildlife and Local law enforcement.
MCRSA licensing will be issued under the purview of: The Department of Food and Agriculture for cultivation licenses; the Department of Public Health for manufacturing licenses; and the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs is responsible for issuing distribution, transportation, laboratory testing, and dispensary (sale) licenses.
NCRWQCB requires performance standards for cultivation site conditions:
◦ a. Site maintenance, erosion control and drainage features
◦ b. Stream crossing maintenance and improvement
◦ c. Stream and wetland buffers
◦ d. Spoils management
◦ e. Water storage and use
◦ f. Irrigation runoff
◦ g. Fertilizers and soil amendments
◦ h. Pesticides
◦ i. Petroleum products and other chemicals
◦ j. Cultivation-related wastes
◦ k. Refuse and human waste, and
◦ l. Remediation, cleanup, and restoration activities
Commercial cannabis activity in California, and any city or county therein, will be operating within the most tightly regulated agricultural industry in history, with rigorous environmental protections mandated throughout, enforced by the combined agencies involved.
Will AF allow commercial cannabis grows in every zone in the county?
As of Jan 2015 the State of California recognized cannabis as an agricultural product to be regulated by the Department of Agriculture. Mendocino County’s Ordinance Code for Agriculture says : It is the declared policy of this County to conserve, protect and encourage intensive agricultural production. County code defines agricultural to include horticulture and row & field crops, which now by state law includes cannabis.
Scale and types of operations permitted by AF vary based on zoning & acreage limits. In current County zoning code agricultural activity is a principal permitted use in the following county zoning districts: AG, UR, RL, FL, TPZ, SR, R1, R2, R3, RC, C-1, I-2, OS, PF. Measure AF calls for cannabis cultivation to be a principally permitted agricultural activity in the following county zoning districts: AG, UR, RL, FL, TPZ, SR, R1, R2, R3, RC, C-1, I-2, OS, PF, the exact same zoning districts.
What is the tax provision in Measure AF?
AF adds a 2.5% tax to gross receipts for the cannabis industry. AF puts money into the general fund for schools, public safety, enforcement, mental health.
How does AF strengthen enforcement?
By drawing a clearer line between legal and illegal operations, AF strengthens enforcement, providing the Sheriff with more resources to focus on hard drugs, illegal grows, and violent crime. State & local agencies protect against environmental impacts through permits & licenses that require compliance with land use, operational and management standards, verified through inspections & management plans. The sheriff will continue to enforce activity outside of the permitting program.
How does Measure AF protect Mendocino’s small local farmers?
AF states that all permit applicants must prove two year residency in Mendocino County as well as over 51% local control of their business. AF calls for no caps on local permits, allowing for the greatest inclusion of current cultivators wishing to transition into the regulated market. Once AF is law, it can be amended by the Board of Supervisors starting in June 2018, and the amount of permits issued can be restricted then if deemed appropriate.
Will AF allow grows of up to an acre?
According to the USDA, small family farms average 231 acres; large family farms average 1,421 acres and the very large farm average acreage is 2,086.
The cost of transitioning from an individual patient/producer or a non-profit cooperative model, to a for-profit small business model is an onerous and expensive process. Costs include: permits & licenses, lawyer fees, inspection fees, development of operations & site plan, compliance education and/or consulting fees, costs of getting the site up to code, possibly new infrastructure, business structuring & development, trademarking, training, marketing & PR, packaging, insurance, tax, trade association memberships……on and on.
Sensible regulation for Mendocino county means a framework that acknowledges the necessity of the small farmer scaling up in order to survive the transition into a regulated market. This framework gives the small cannabis farmer of Mendocino county, many of whom have never operated a small business, a fighting chance. They will be entering a market that includes competing corporate entities with mighty resources, who hold permits for vastly more than 1 acre of cultivation.
There is also the consideration of the regional market. Mendocino County is part of the Emerald Triangle, a brand identity that will loose it’s value to the small farmer in Mendocino County if our county’s participation therein becomes a historic reference. Surrounding counties are moving forward with bolder regulation than AF proposes, and regional as well as statewide industry is well underway.
Will AF allow commercial cannabis operations in trailer parks?
No. Permitting through AF requires consent of the land owner. AF has setback provisions of 30′ from any property line, 100′ from an occupied residential structure on a neighboring parcel and 600′ from school or park. Mobile Home Parks are predominately located within incorporated areas of Mendocino County, which will fall under the purview of distinct ordinances in the process of being, or yet to be drafted in those municipalities.
How does AF protect neighbors from cannabis activity?
Measure AF only applies to the unincorporated areas of Mendocino County. Mendocino Cities have the obligation to draft their own distinct regulation for commercial cannabis permitting, so population dense incorporated areas will be governed by their own distinct ordinances, the development of which will involve public review.
Under AF, setbacks are fully consistent with state law, AF can be amended by the county as of June 2018, including provisions for setbacks. Measure AF will make illegal cannabis activity clear to law enforcement, and move dangerous un-permitted activities out of neighborhoods and into licensed facilities.
Cannabis’ new designation by the state of California as an agricultural product means cannabis agriculture is protected under the Right to Farm Act, and can no longer be subject to a nuisance ordinance. Therefore the County’s 9.31 cannabis cultivation ordinance, which is the nuisance ordinance that currently governs cannabis cultivation & permitting in this county, is obsolete. The passage of AF would position Cannabis agricultural land to be legally eligible for The Williamson Act. To categorize cannabis as somehow undeserving of these rights and protections is out of line with state law, and the intent of Mendocino County Code.
However AF does includes provisions for proximity considerations such as calling for; lights used for cultivation shall be shielded and downcast or otherwise positioned in a manner that will not shine light or allow light glare to exceed the boundaries of the parcel upon which they are placed from dusk to dawn. AF also mandates that activity not exceed noise level standards set forth in the Mendocino County General Plan.
How does AF protect Mendocino from butane hash production?
Currently there is un-permitted cannabis extraction activity, using volatile flammable solvents such as butane, happening in homes and fire-prone rural areas. The manufacturing process of extracting botanical oils using volatile solvents is extremely common to the production of many household items; cooking oils, oils in cosmetics, botanical medicines. For example, Coconut, Palm, Grapeseed and Rice Bran are typically solvent extracted. This is a complex manufacturing process using food grade solvents in a laboratory setting. However, while this is a standard process for production, it requires strict protocols for safe & effective procedure.
Measure AF imposes such restrictions, requiring that the permitting agency, in this case Building and Planning first establish standard operating procedures and regulations before issuing permits. AF calls for permitted manufacturing facilities to maintain an on-site operating plan that includes procedures to limit risk of explosion or combustion, a hazardous waste disposal plan, a fire safety & suppression plan and a water source & discharge plan.
Measure AF proposes that cannabis manufacture using volatile solvents be limited to industrial zoning, which represents .09 % of Mendocino county zoning. Designating industrial zoning for regulated volatile solvent extraction moves this activity out of wildfire vulnerable rural communities & neighborhoods. Most industrial zoning falls under the jurisdiction of distinct municipal ordinances in development or yet to be developed.
How does AF protect Mendocino’s children?
AF provides set backs of 600′ from schools and parks. Under AF employees working in permitted facilities are required to be 21 years or older. AF will move commercial cannabis activity into a regulatory system. The black market activity which persists in neighborhoods will be very clearly defined, allowing law enforcement to focus their efforts more efficiently on illegal grows and major crimes within the county.
How does AF protect farm workers?
Measure AF mandates worker-protective standards such as; clean working conditions, protocols to prevent the processing of mold and mildew contaminated products, an emergency action plan, hazard storage & communication policies, providing of protective equipment, safe drinking water & sanitation, and much more. The current cultivation draft ordinance by the Board of Supervisors does not speak to workers rights or safe working conditions at all.
How does AF affect our local economy?
AF will pour millions of dollars into the County’s depleted general fund & tax revenue and create thousands of jobs. Measure AF will level the local playing field, making all citizens in Mendocino County eligible for permitting, provided they have been residents of the county for the past 2 years. This is an inclusive policy, providing opportunity to a wide spectrum of racial and economic demographics, as compared to the Board of Supervisor’s cultivation ordinance being drafted currently, which limits eligibility to residents of Mendocino county that can prove a history of cultivation prior to Jan 1 2016. This inclusionary policy allows for the greatest amount of local small farmers to transition into the regulatory framework.
What’s at stake if AF does not pass?
The regulatory framework that small cannabis farmers are currently operating under is being phased out on the state level. It is essential that comprehensive local permitting become available as soon as possible so that our farmers can begin the onerous process of transitioning into regulation. Surrounding counties are regulated & well on their way, experiencing exponential growth of industry and revenue. The economy of Mendocino county will be shifting as a result of these sweeping regional changes, either for the better or the worse depending on how prepared we are to leverage these changes to our benefit as a rural agricultural county.
Delayed & partial regulation in Mendocino County means enduring black market activity that perpetuates dangerous manufacturing in neighborhoods and forests, illegal trespass grows, unmitigated water diversion and pollution. It also means that businesses who want to come out of the shadows to own & operate legal permitted cannabis business here may have to relocate to other cities and counties that offer regulatory protections.