Cannabis cultivators in Northern California are in the midst of a giant shift. Recreational regulations are being debated in the state house, a new set of medical marijuana regulations is set to go into effect at the end of the year, and the state’s growers are trying to adapt. In Nevada County, outside of Sacramento, that adaptation process also means trying to find a way to conserve the land they work on, while still making profit and operating within regulations.
Last Sunday, only days after state regulators put forth a draft of California’s new medical regulations, a group of Nevada County growers met to hear from environmental professionals and industry insiders to workshop cultivation techniques and environmental sustainability.
Whether it’s indoor grows with around the clock energy drains or outdoor grows with groundwater issues and soil contamination concerns, keeping a cannabis business environmentally sustainable is hard work. California growers, and regulators, are trying to make sure that the land they work on is still fertile decades after legalization.
"Let's not have the destruction from the latest green rush have the same type of lasting impact we have 150 years later from the gold rush," Caleb Dardick, Executive Director of the South Yuba River Citizens League, the group that put on the event. "Can you imagine if we had properly regulated gold mining and timber harvesting back in the 1800s? We might still have a sustainable industry in both of those sectors."
The 40 or so attendees heard from experts and discussed topics like water use, soil care, green building techniques, and, of course, the newly minted regulatory draft.
"I think the fact that there are brand new regulations that just came out of the state on Friday is exciting," said Rachel Hutchingson, the Citizen League’s river science director. "I think everyone is still grappling with how to deal with that. I think it's really important to read through those and comment on those draft regulations so that their voice is heard and we get the best possible outcome for the environment and the industry, because it is such an important industry to Nevada County."
With recreational regulations still not set, figuring out how to operate within the brand new medical regulations is the only outline local growers currently have.
"The rules are so complex that nobody really knows them all," Attorney Heather Burke, who talked on a legal panel at Sunday’s event, said. "That's anybody from an environmental regulator such as a water board to judges and juries, all the way up. People are trying to figure it out now. The rules are coming out at breakneck speed."
Thankfully, California growers have a few months before the regulations become law, and even then there will be a grace period to help businesses get up to speed. But even without the rule change, a push towards environmental sustainability in the cannabis industry is necessary. After all, no one wants the environmental lawlessness of the gold rush repeating itself in the hills of Nor Cal.