Mendocino County Agriculture Commissioner Chuck Morse will delay his retirement until next June 9, rescinding his previously submitted date of November 18. Morse returned to his office after an extended holiday weekend with a new retirement date, prompting the county to retract the recruitment notice that went out last Friday.
“I thought I had things figured out, and the timing sorted out, so it was best for all parties,” Morse told The Mendocino Voice, “Turns out I had it all backwards.”
Morse said he realized he should remain through the ongoing environmental review process being conducted for Mendocino’s proposed cannabis cultivation regulations, as well as take more time to address other aspects of his transition.
Emphasizing the importance of continuity during the environmental review process for the proposed cultivation regulations, Morse said that he didn’t want to make the transition any more difficult for county staff and residents. “I realized it would put the Board [of Supervisors] and the new commissioner in a very stressful position,” he explained, adding that there were a multitude of tasks he hoped to accomplish before retiring.
The county’s current plan is for the proposed regulations to be in effect February 2017, but Morse pointed out that even if no step in that timeline is delayed, there are many considerations facing the county ag department as it prepares for the statewide reclassification of cannabis cultivation as agriculture in 2018. Morse is hoping to increase staffing for next year’s cannabis program, as well as complete “a list of about 25 different things” regarding departmental administration and other ag programs before he leaves the job.
Though his initial retirement date was set for shortly after this November’s election, he noted that changes to state and county cannabis regulations could complicate the county ag department’s plans for a cultivation program — particularly if the statewide Adult Use of Marijuana (Proposition 64) and county Mendocino Heritage Act (Measure AF) are approved by voters.
“Come November 9, we’re going to have to sit down and look at what transpired, figure out what we’ve done so far and look at what fits,” he said of potential changes to the current draft regulations.
Morse noted that much of the environmental review process will be done by county-hired consultants, but he expects to continue providing input as a key staff member working on the regulations, adding the county won’t have a good sense of how many residents will enroll until the program is ready.
In addition to significant work on the cultivation program, Morse has also developed a set of regulations for cannabis nurseries and a “Mendocino Sustainably Farmed” certificate as part of the regulatory program. Currently, the county has completed the draft baseline analysis that is the first step in the environmental review process and distributed it for stakeholder comment.
As for non-cannabis related departmental matters, Morse explained that a June retirement will mean the department’s budget “will be close to final if not completed” when he leaves, as will a large portion of the work for the county’s annual crop report. He said he will also be prioritizing certain administrative transitional duties, along with a weights and measures program he’s been hoping to implement.
“We all hope and strive as ag commissioners to serve our board, serve our constituents, and to promote the industry and equity in agriculture,” Morse reflected, with now more than nine months remaining in the position he has held for nearly five years. “I’ve always tried to be respectful, I’m a farmer, so I get it from that perspective,” he said, explaining he looks forward to having more time to work on his own hay farm and family orchard.
Morse added that in his work with cannabis “It’s been a great relationship both ways, the industry has afforded me a lot of respect — it’s been a wonderful two way street.”