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Formerly known as Emerald Growers Association, the new name California Growers Association is meant to be more inclusive of the state cannabis industry.
Formerly known as Emerald Growers Association, the new name California Growers Association is meant to be more inclusive of the state cannabis industry.

Cannabis industry participants must be aware and active in four realms of public policy:

  1. Legislative
  2. Regulatory
  3. Electoral
  4. Local

But cannabis isn’t alone in its need for engaging these areas. Industries and groups of farmers have used Trade Associations as a traditional vehicle for raising a common voice in political processes. As Acting Board Chair for California Growers Association, it is my duty to shepherd our shared voice through participation in an active stakeholder process.

What’s a trade association? An organization founded and funded by businesses that operate in a specific industry and that participates in public relations activities such as advertising, education, and lobbying. via Wikipedia.

California Growers Association comes into existence to serve the broad spectrum of cannabis industry participants, seeking to maintain the culture and heritage of independent businesses in the state. In forming CGA, we seek a broad consensus and representation from the community. The goal is the Grand Initiative; a thousand small farmers contributing $1000/year as membership dues will provide funding to grow the organizational capacity to manage engagements in each of the four areas of public policy.

We’ll dig into how CGA is working for the industry in the four realms of public policy, but first let’s address this question …

Why Did EGA Change to CGA?

One of the issues that came out of 2014 stakeholder processes was that the name “Emerald” was seen by many as representative of only the Emerald Triangle. Stakeholders noted that a statewide Trade Association should bear a name that reflected that position. In polling, we determined that California Growers Association was both palatable and unassuming; this is preferable for Sacramento, where many politicians and bureaucrats are still uncomfortable with cannabis.

Cannabis is still an issue with banking and government institutions, so we chose to maintain the innocuous California Growers Association in a more calculated, conservative position in the state legislature. This marks the difference between market development and political development; we retain our heritage and sense of self in each arena, but we understand that each requires a different approach. Maturing our collective understanding of tactics and strategy to include different approaches for the different arenas of public policy is essential to our effective translation and transition.

Together, we will achieve a clarity of process that enables us to address the issues we face as individuals on our farms so that we make the transition to regulation. We all have different compliance issues; working together to understand what is required of us and to address the process in organized fashion will give us much stronger methodologies for success.

Now let’s look at how CGA has been involved in public policy in California:

1. CGA at the Legislative Level

As a trade association, CGA is funded by membership dues. Last year, we spent the majority of the budget on work in the legislative process; we established four platform priorities and we accomplished the goals we set. We pushed for regulation under Department of Food and Ag for farmers, with tiered business licenses and no cap on the number of small and specialty licenses. We pushed for Appellation controls and the establishment of environmental best management practices to reign in potential environmental damages from an expanding industry.

Protecting the Family Farms

With the passage of the Medical Marijuana Regulatory Safety Act (MMRSA), we have been all over the state gathering input from stakeholders. Thus far, farmers have noted that there is a tremendous amount of cultivation that is much smaller than 5,000 square feet. Many of these small farms are on rural, residential parcels. We must maintain the existing cultivators by crafting pathways that support existing businesses, not ones that force consolidation and conglomeration.

If we say to Mom and Pop; “well, you’ll just have to double your production to cover regulatory costs,” then Mom and Pop are out of the farming life. CGA will seek to support these small farmers through engagement with the legislative and regulatory processes.

That said, we must balance our needs as farmers with systemic expectations regarding commercial activity restrictions on residential zones. This will be a sticking point that will have to be worked out locality by locality, illustrating some of the cross-over between the four policy arenas and the need for an organized presence by a trade association that can function and maintain a collaborative strategy in each arena.

2. Regulatory Level

We will continue to support industry participants in working together to learn sound management practices that maintain the strength of world renowned California Cannabis. CGA will engage regulatory processes, interfacing with the Department of Food and Ag, Department of Consumer Affairs, Board of Equalization and Department of Health. These high-level interactions will help to shape policy as regulations are developed out of MMRSA.

As an organization funded by membership dues, the more members we have, the more staff we have to maintain these important relationships with government bureaucrats. Regulatory processes will eat up much more budget this year and require much more attention than last year.

CGA will host regular workshops and meetings to provide information and support to farmers as we work to navigate the upcoming Water Board Discharge Waiver Program, register Water Rights with the Water Resource Board and deal with Department of Fish and Wildlife.  See the Resources at the end of this article and please add to them in the comments section.

3. Electoral Level

There are a number of Ballot Initiatives circulating language for 2016 legalization efforts. CGA is tracking, monitoring and providing feedback to proponents. We seek to maintain the decentralized system of independent businesses that have made California a world leader in quality cannabis production.

We have not endorsed any initiatives as of this time. Remaining neutral gives us a better platform to provide balanced feedback to proponents and our members. Our goals are to see the stable progression of a transition to regulation for the farms and independent businesses that have defined the cannabis industry under Prohibition.

Moving forward, we will also need to learn to engage with the elections process. It is essential that we provide information and balanced perspective to candidates for office so that they are informed on our issues as stakeholders in land-use, economic and social-cultural arenas.  Informed policy-makers make better decisions and it is our imperative to provide a window into our world so that the rule-making process can reflect our needs.

4. Local Level

We must work locally on the things that are designed to be accomplished by local government.  This is where the on-the-ground-land-use questions will be settled. Local governments will decide what types of permits will be issued for what types of businesses on what types of parcels. There has been a great deal of work done by myriad local groups to develop local processes.

HUMMAP predates the current round of discussions, laying a foundation for discussion in both Mendocino and Humboldt. California Cannabis Voice Humboldt has done a tremendous job of pushing the conversation in Humboldt, as has the Mendocino Cannabis Policy Council and Small Farmers Association in Mendocino. Siskiyou Alternative Medicine (SAM) has been active in the North State as have been many other local groups around the state.

One of the explicit goals of the CGA Community Development Program is the launching of local chapters around the state to build on and support existing local processes in coordinated fashion so that effective relay of information can be achieved up and down the chain.  For more information about local chapters or to start one in your area, contact Casey@cagrowers.org

Resources:

This is not an exhaustive list; there are many more land-use consultants out there. Add your suggestions in the comments.

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