A move by Mendocino County’s marijuana industry to dramatically rewrite the rules for commercial cannabis has touched off a tense political battle in the heart of pot country, where thousands of citizens grow weed and local economies rely on the underground multimillion-dollar industry.
Signs for and against Mendocino’s Measure AF dot the bucolic landscape of the county at the south end of the Emerald Triangle, widely credited with growing 60 percent of the nation’s marijuana.
“It’s almost like who isn’t growing cannabis here,” said Laytonville resident Tim Blake, founder of the Emerald Cup marijuana fair and a member of the Yes on AF steering committee.
The measure, known as the Mendocino Heritage Act — written, financed and promoted by the county’s pot growers and dispensaries — represents the industry’s vision of government regulation, one that clashes with the county’s political establishment and local regulations under development.
The 60-page measure presents a “radically new approach to dealing with cannabis,” said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the 700-member California Growers Association, the state’s largest cannabis trade group, which endorsed Measure AF along with two other pot industry groups.
That’s especially because the measure cuts law enforcement out of the regulatory picture and replaces it with civil oversight, including the assessment of penalties for cannabis businesses that violate the proposed licensing and zoning codes, as well as safety and environmental standards.
It may seem striking now, Allen said, “but a decade from now that is going to be the norm.”
Whether it wins or loses in the Nov. 8 election, the measure may “provide a template” for local regulations in California and beyond, said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.
The cannabis industry is “becoming much more savvy than it was a few election cycles ago,” McCuan said.
Opposition to Measure AF
Lined up against Measure AF is a coalition of more than two dozen organizations, including the Board of Supervisors, Ukiah City Council and Ukiah Valley Democratic Club along with environmental, educational and public safety groups.
“The growers have over-reached,” said county Supervisor John McCowen, who co-signed a ballot argument against Measure AF.
The measure is “a test of how much we are willing to put up with in Mendocino County,” he said, acknowledging that it is a “very cannabis-tolerant community” with nearly 50,000 registered voters.
It took just 2,500 voters’ signatures to put Measure AF on the ballot. To become law it needs a majority vote from Mendocino’s ultra-liberal electorate, which favored Bernie Sanders by 2-to-1 over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary vote in June.
“They are allowing thousands of new growers on thousands of cultivating sites,” McCowen said, noting that Measure AF allows 1-acre gardens on large parcels.
The county’s draft pot cultivation and zoning ordinance bans new growers until 2020 and limits large-lot gardens to 10,000 square feet. The ordinance could come to a vote by the Board of Supervisors in December or January, McCowen said, but if Measure AF is approved it would supplant all current and future marijuana regulations adopted by supervisors.
Mike Sweeney, coordinator of the No on AF campaign, said the ballot measure is a “hoax” because it has no enforcement teeth. County inspectors, rather than sheriff’s deputies, would be empowered to issue citations for permit violations with a $100 fine for the first offense. It would provide a 60-day period to resolve the violation and the opportunity for appeals to be decided by a hearing officer.
The Mendocino Heritage Act of 2016 would regulate and tax commercial medical cannabis activity in unincorporated Mendocino County. It was drafted by members of the local cannabis industry. The 60-page measure establishes:
Permits for cultivation, manufacture, transportation, distribution, testing and dispensaries with no cap on the number of permits.
A two-year residency requirement for all permits.
A 2.5 percent annual tax on the gross receipts of medical cannabis businesses.
Setbacks for cultivation and other cannabis businesses of 30 feet from a neigh-boring property line, 100 feet from an adjacent residence and 600 feet of a school or park.
Amendments by the Board of Supervisors starting in June 2018.
Butane hash production in industrial zones under standards set by the county.
A civil enforcement procedure for permit violations, removing law enforcement action.