In our California Cannabis Countdown, Tiffany Wu (of our San Francisco office) regularly analyzes the various local city and county ordinances governing California’s ever-changing cannabis industry (see here, for example). Local cannabis laws have always been important in California, but they’ve become even more important now that the Medical Cannabis Regulation California Cannabisand Safety Act (“MCRSA“) requires local government approval before you can get a state medical cannabis license. And though you don’t need that local approval before getting a state license under Proposition 64, you will have to be in compliance with local law before you can open and operate your adult use cannabis business in California.

Some California cities and counties have gone back and forth for months over what their local marijuana market should look like, with some even banning marijuana businesses altogether. Mendocino County, part of the famous Emerald Triangle, is no different, though it is getting closer to some form of comprehensive regulation even if it only addresses medical cannabis cultivation for now.

Mendocino County codifies its current medical cannabis regulations under Section 9.31 of its county code, which it amended in May of this year with an urgency ordinance. The County basically has two standards for current growers: growers cultivating no more than 25 plants per parcel, and growers cultivating more than 25 plants per parcel because they are authorized to do so by the County and/or the Sheriff as a result of having registered with the County by June 3 of this year.

Section 9.31 may end up being moot though since the County is looking to pass two new ordinances: one having to do with regulations and permitting for cannabis cultivation sites and the other having to do with zoning for the same. Copies of both proposed ordinances can be found here. Let’s start with the Medical Cannabis Cultivation Ordinance (“MCCO”).

Under the MCCO, should it pass, to be considered by the Agricultural Commissioners Office for a cultivation site MCCO permit, you will need to prove to the County that you had an existing, Proposition 215 and Section 9.31-compliant medical cannabis cultivation site prior to January 1, 2016. To prove the existence of such a site , the County will require the following:

  1. Photographs of any cannabis cultivation activities that existed on a legal parcel prior to January 1, 2016, including: ground level views of the cannabis cultivation activities and aerial views from Google Earth, Bing Maps, Terraserver, or other comparable services showing the entire legal parcel and the cultivation area in more detail. The date these images were captured must be noted.
  2. Photographs of any cannabis cultivation activities that currently exist on a legal parcel, including: ground level views of the cultivation activities from at least three different vantage points, and aerial views from Google Earth, Bing Maps, Terraserver, or other comparable services showing the entire legal parcel and the cannabis cultivation area in more detail. The date these images were captured must be noted.
  3. At least one additional document demonstrating proof of cannabis cultivation prior to January 1, 2016. A list of examples of the type of documentation that will meet this requirement are found in Appendix B to the application. Any reliable documentary evidence similar to that found in Appendix B which is deemed satisfactory to the Agricultural Commissioner, which establishes that medical cannabis was planted and grown on a parcel to be permitted prior to January 1, 2016, will likewise be accepted.

You can also re-locate your existing cannabis cultivation site if you can prove the above, but you will then be treated as a “new” grow, which really just means increased property setback restrictions. In addition to proof of a prior grow (and a bevy of other regulations relating to fencing, security, grow lighting, and track and trace requirements), MCCO permit applicants will be limited to two cultivation permits, one per legal parcel. There are ten different types of cannabis cultivation permits that vary by size and growing medium, including a nursery permit.

For all MCCO permit applicants, the following will be required by Mendocino County as part of the MCCO permit application:

  1. The name, business and residential address, and phone number(s) of the applicant.
  2. If the applicant is not the record title owner of the legal parcel, written consent from the actual owner allowing cultivation of medical cannabis on their property by the applicant with original signature of the record title owner.
  3. Written evidence that each person applying for the permit and any other person who will be engaged in the management of the collective is at least twenty-one (21) years of age.
  4. A site plan showing the entire legal parcel, including easements, streams, springs, ponds and other surface water features, and the location and area for cannabis cultivation on the legal parcel, with dimensions of the area for cultivation and setbacks from property lines. The site plan shall also include all areas of ground disturbance or surface water disturbance associated with cultivation activities, including: access roads, water diversions, culverts, ponds, dams, graded flats, and other related features. The site plan must include dimensions showing that the distance from any school, youth oriented facility, church, public park, or residential treatment facility to the nearest point of the cultivation area is at least 1,000 feet.
  5. A cultivation and operations plan which includes elements that meet or exceed the minimum legal standards for the following: water storage, conservation and use; drainage, runoff and erosion control; watershed and habitat protection; and proper storage of fertilizers, pesticides and other regulated products to be used on the legal parcel. Any fuel, fertilizer, pesticides, or other substance toxic to wildlife, children, or pets, must be stored in a secured and locked structure or device. The plan must also provide a description of cannabis cultivation activities including, permit type, cultivation area, soil/media importation and management, the approximate date(s) of all cannabis cultivation activities that have been conducted on the legal parcel prior to the effective date of this ordinance, and a schedule of activities during each month of the growing and harvesting season.
  6. A copy of the statement of water diversion, or other permit, license or registration filed with California Water Resources Control Board, Division of Water Rights, if applicable.
  7. An irrigation plan and projected water usage for the proposed cultivation activities, as well as a description of its legal water source.
  8. A copy of a Notice of Intent and Monitoring Self-Certification and any other documents filed with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB), demonstrating enrollment in and compliance with (or proof of exemption from) Tier 1, 2 or 3, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board Order No. 2015-0023, or any substantially equivalent rule that may be subsequently adopted by the County of Mendocino or other responsible agency.
  9. If any on-site or off-site component of the cultivation facility, including access roads, water supply, grading or terracing impacts the bed or bank of any stream or other water source, you must show proof that you have notified the California department of Fish and Wildlife pursuant to Section 1602 of the Fish and Game Code and provide a copy of the streambed alteration permit obtained from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
  10. If the source of water is a well, a copy of the County well permit, if available.
  11. A unique identifying number from a State of California Driver’s License or Identification Card for each person applying for the permit and any other person who will be engaged in the management of the cultivation operation.
  12. Evidence that the applicant or any individual engaged in the management of, or employed by, the cultivator has not been convicted of a violent felony as defined in Penal Code section 667.5 (c) within the State of California, or a crime that would have constituted a violent felony as defined in Penal Code section 667.5 (c) if committed in the State of California and is not currently on parole or felony probation. A conviction within the meaning of this section means a plea or verdict of guilty or a conviction following a plea of nolo contendere.
  13. A statement describing the proposed security measures for the facility sufficient to ensure the safety of members and employees and protect the premises from theft.
  14. If the applicant is organized as a non-profit collective, the applicant shall set forth the name of the corporation exactly as shown in its Articles of Incorporation, and the names and residence addresses of each of the officers and/or directors. If the applicant is organized as a partnership, the application shall set forth the name and residence address of each of the partners, including the general partner and any limited partners. Copies of the Articles of Incorporation or Partnership Agreement shall be attached to the application.
  15. The applicant shall provide proof of either a physician recommendation that the amount of cannabis to be cultivated is consistent with the applicant’s medical needs, the needs of the patients for whom the applicant is a caregiver, or a written agreement or agreements, that the applicant is authorized by one or more medical marijuana dispensing collectives or processors to produce medical marijuana for the use of the members of said collective(s) or processor(s).
  16. The Agricultural Commissioner is authorized to require in the permit application any other information reasonably related to the application including, but not limited to, any information necessary to discover the truth of the matters set forth in the application.
  17. Apply for and obtain a Board of Equalization Seller’s Permit and collect and remit sales tax to the Board of Equalization if applicant intends to sell directly to qualified patients or primary caregivers.
  18. Written consent for an onsite pre-permit inspection of the legal parcel by County officials at a prearranged date and time in consultation with the applicant prior to the approval of a permit to cultivate medical cannabis, and at least once annually thereafter.
  19. If applicable, clearance from CalFire related to compliance with the requirements of Public Resources Code Section 4290 and any implementing regulations.
  20. For activities that involve construction and other work in Waters of the United States, that are not otherwise exempt or excluded, include a copy of a federal Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 permit obtained from the Army Corps of Engineers and a CWA Section 401 water quality certification from the NCRWQCB.
  21. For projects that disturb one (1) or more acres of soil or projects that disturb less than one acre but that are part of a larger common plan of development that in total disturbs one or more acres, are required to obtain coverage under the State Water Resources Control Board General Permit for Discharges of Storm Water Associated with Construction Activity Construction General Permit Order 2009- 0009-DWQ. Construction activity subject to this permit includes clearing, grading and disturbances to the ground such as stockpiling, or excavation, but does not include regular maintenance activities performed to restore the original line, grade, or capacity of the facility.

If the Agricultural Commissioners Office approves you for an MCCO permit, you’ll then be kicked over to the Department of Building and Planning Services for zoning compliance. Under the County’s proposed zoning ordinance, cannabis cultivation of varying parcel and canopy sizes will be allowed in the following zones: RR 2, RR 5, RR 10, AG, UR, RL, FL, TPZ, I1, I2, and PI. And all permissible zoning will require either a zoning clearance, an administrative permit, or a minor use permit. Further, depending on the MCCO permit type, there are minimum lot size restrictions ranging from 5 to 10 acres. And also depending on whether you’re an existing cannabis grow or a “new” grow (based on whether you’re moving your existing grow), there are various property setback requirements you will have to follow to achieve compliant zoning.

Right now, the County is still deciding on whether to adopt these proposed ordinances, and they’re talking public comment on them until January 4, 2017. I list all of the above though just to emphasize how difficult and time consuming and expensive it will be to operate a cannabis cultivation business in Mendocino County. But the bad news is that we expect many other California counties to initiate similar requirements.

Stay tuned to see if Mendocino County will embrace the heavy regulations set forth above or go back to the drawing board on cultivation.

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