Outdoors Q&A: Are All Farmers Held to Same Standards as Cannabis Growers? | OutdoorsDecember 5, 2020
Question: I understand that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) plays a regulatory role in commercial cannabis operations, because poor grow practices harm the environment and California’s fish and wildlife. But are farmers of other legal crops — say, almonds, or wine grapes — held to the same standards?
Cannabis cultivation usually occurs in remote areas, not in locations zoned for agricultural use.
Answer: Any farming activity that has the potential to impact California’s native fish, wildlife and plant resources must comply with the laws and regulations in place to protect them. This is true for farm-to-fork operations and commercial cannabis growers.
Anyone requiring a Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement from CDFW are subject to the same requirements and fees.
However, there are regulatory differences between cannabis farming and other agricultural industries. For example, commercial size cannabis cultivation requires a state license from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and farming without it could result in a felony charge.
And, each county has adopted its own land use ordinances that address where, how and if cannabis cultivation can take place.
Along with this, the legislature’s findings in Fish and Game Code section 12029 concluded the environmental impacts associated with illegal cannabis cultivation can have a detrimental effect on fish and wildlife and their habitats, which are held in trust by the state.
This means CDFW is obligated by statute to protect the environment and regulate commercial cannabis cultivation activity.
Another important difference between commercial cannabis cultivation and other agriculture crops is the typical farming location. Grapes and almonds can usually be found in zoned agricultural areas as opposed to cannabis cultivation, which still occurs deep in the hills.
Many threatened or endangered fish and wildlife live in these remote areas, which can be greatly impacted by cannabis farming practices such as water diversions, pesticide use and land clearing.
Between urban encroachment, wildfires and drought years, California’s native fish and wildlife have faced a lot of pressure, and when you add unregulated cannabis farming activities on top of it, it exacerbates the problem.
State regulations help protect the environment and provide consumer safety in this newly regulated market. Other highly regulated activities such as hunting and fishing, driving, or alcohol and spirits production also require licensing and are subject to regulatory compliance monitoring, too.
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