Among the bills that Governor Jerry Brown rushed to submit last week, three were signed into law on Friday finally establishing regulations for medical marijuana in California — Assembly Bill 266, Assembly Bill 243 and Senate Bill 643. Thankfully, these bills have been gutted since their passing from the legislature to the Governor.
In their original form, these bills served to enact some pretty hefty regulation in an industry that many believed to be operating just fine since the founding of its provisions through Proposition 215 decades earlier. While they were certainly severe, it was hard to say that such an ever-increasing and extremely profitable industry could continue to propagate without certain restrictions.
Medical marijuana farming in California came under fire in the beginning of the year concerning its lack of limitations in an increasingly drought-stricken state, leaving it *ahem* high and dry. This sentiment only worsened when major publications began to report on a study that some marijuana farmers were going to drastic measures in order to secure water by diverting natural waterways.
In response to this and other studies from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the State Water Resources Control Board created a task force specifically for cannabis producers and began handing out fines for violations in the Emerald Triangle — Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties — which is known for having the highest concentration of grow operations. There are thought to be 4,000 "farms" in Humboldt County alone; compare that to the entire state's 4,000 wineries — California's other cash crop — and you begin to understand their impact on water use.
Thankfully, part of the regulations now passed into law will protect our state in drier times by setting up a robust system of permitting water use and delineating a way to enforce it. Like the wine industry, marijuana will serve as an example of how agriculture needs to evolve. This new legislation will serve to change mindsets about how water can be distributed more fairly and encourage wider adoption of practices like rainwater collection. All of these steps are necessary to protect our natural resources as these crops grow ever more prosperous.