The following is a letter to the editor, published here as opinion. The opinions expressed in this letter are those of the writer. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor feel free to write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve been thinking about the question of expanding the permit sizes for cultivation in Mendocino County — hours of discussion with people in group counsel and singular conversations. Some of the folks I speak with have similar positions to me and some hold different perspectives than I do. I am open to evolving my positions based on new input, and I delight in discourse.
Due diligence in policy work is critical to assess the potential for consequences, both intended and unintended. As I continue to refine my personal opinion through deep rumination and study, I seek out information and people who hold different positions than I do.
My farm is 5000 square feet, 1/16th of an acre of cannabis production. I could conceive of expanding to 10,000 (¼ acre), but I can’t see myself going beyond that. My brother’s farm will be 7500 square feet this year and it will hopefully get to 10,000 over the seasons to come. For our cannabis production to get any bigger, we’d have to cut down on vegetable production.
As a small-scale farmer, I share the concerns around shifting market dynamics for small farms, but I do not believe that it does any good to create policies to protect my group in this county when the rules are different in the statewide market. That said, I am not in favor of expansion beyond an acre at this time.
The argument is made that larger scale cannabis cultivation will create jobs and provide opportunity for struggling agricultural operations by allowing them to diversify from wine grapes or pears. I have mixed feelings about this line of reasoning. In general, I want to see greater economic potential for our county. I want people to have good jobs that pay well. That said, I’m leery of the continuation of a boom-and-bust land-use cycle that has been a core tenet of oppression and white supremacy. I also benefit from this cycle and that privilege needs unpacking and redressing.
In terms of my meta-policy thinking, I’m in favor of creating good jobs in agriculture that help families earn a solid living. I’m in favor of sustainable policy that makes sense based on data. I’m willing to evolve my positions to try to find a pathway that makes the most sense for the most people while doing the least harm to the planet.
Mendocino County is a nationwide leader in taking steps to avoid huge changes. We were the first county in the nation to ban GMO’s. Just because “everyone else is doing something” hasn’t been an argument that our communities have chosen to support in the past. We march to the beat of our own drum, and we have an opportunity to regulate the expansion of cannabis cultivation to build in sustainability practices that can make Mendocino a model for the world.
We need to take the time to develop metrics of sustainability that can be enshrined in practice by farms who want to expand. We have an amazing community of famers who are taking the steps to learn how to make agriculture regenerative, and the county should develop a regulatory framework for expansion that takes these practices into account.
By building a regulatory framework that includes sustainability metrics, the county would lay a foundation for a world-class appellation program. There is much discussion about large-scale production and appellations, and there is significant concern that this type of production would water down the reputation that Mendocino holds for craft, quality production.
I believe that slow steps into change are necessary so that the inevitable unintended consequences are also slow and we can assess as we go along. I support expansion up to an acre for two years, with a reassessment of the policy at the end of that time.
Two years is short enough that we will be able to respond to potential changes at the federal or state level, while giving us some data points to utilize in revising our regulatory framework. It will give us time to dial in sustainability metrics so that the unintended consequences can be assessed before they are replicated at scale.
Just like we banned GMO’s, Mendocino County should regulate cannabis to be held to high standards. We have a culture and a way of doing things here, and we must safeguard that by making policy that reflects that culture, even if it means flying against the dominant wisdom. Just because “everyone else is doing it” hasn’t been an argument that we bought into in the past, why should we start now? This is our opportunity to be at the forefront of driving the change to a new agriculture that can sustain and regenerate. To not do so would be a failure in our fundamental duty as humans in this time of climate change.
Casey O’Neill owns and runs HappyDay Farms, a small vegetable and cannabis farm north of Laytonville. He is a long time cannabis policy advocate, and was born and raised in the Bell Springs area.