In-depth: Budding marijuana industry still struggling with growing pains

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It’s been nearly a year since legal cannabis became fully legal for adults over 21 to consume without a doctor’s note.

But the pathway to the end of pot prohibition has not been entirely smooth.

KRON4 goes in-depth on Tuesday night into this budding industry that is still struggling with growing pains.

Last month, the cannabis harvest was in full swing. Farm workers were watering their crops, which have grown into big bushes in the Sonoma County soil under sunny fall skies.

Others snip the ready green buds or flowers, as they are commonly referred to in this growing industry, getting them ready to be dried before they are shipped to a dispensary.

Shivawn Brady is this farm’s director of operations. She says that they’ve been compliant for some time now.

So little about how they are growing has changed in this first harvest since weed was made legal for adults, except the increase in red tape.

“I think it’s upwards of 22 different agencies that are regulating this crop,” Brady said. “I spend almost 40 hours a week just focused on compliance and trying to figure out all of this. From the California Fish and Wildlife, to the state water board, to the department of AG, to the dept of pesticide regulation, this is one of the most heavily regulated crops we’ve probably seen in history so it’s challenging.”

The folks at the Justice Grown farm only cultivate a little less than 1 acre on their 56-acre property because that’s all they are allowed under county ordinance. They’d like to grow a second acre on this patch as well, but that’s unlikely to happen unless Sonoma County decides to change their cannabis rules–yet again.

This is the second harvest they’ve gathered here at this location. They used to be in another spot but were forced to move after officials decided their old farm was in an area not suitable for commercial pot farming. They are applying for a variance, so they don’t have to move a third time.

That and many other aspects of becoming a legitimate cannabis business remains up in the air.

“Compliance is a moving target, so it’s challenging to build your operations, make smart capital investments when you don’t know exactly what that finish line should look like,” Brady said.

While they have authorization to operate, Justice Grown still does not have an official permit from the county. And it could be six-months-to-a-year until that’s a reality.

Brady says there are over 200 cannabis farmers in Sonoma County, trying to get a conditional use permit.

It’s been over a year since this process began and as of yet, none of them have been granted one.

“So that leaves a lot of folks in limbo not knowing if they should continue to invest if they should continue moving forward or they should just pull the plug and just find a different county a different city that might have a more friendly cannabis policy,” Brady said. “Most of us have deep roots in this county, so the idea of leaving is really painful, but the idea of abandoning. For a lot of us, this is our dream, is also really painful.”

But Brady says Justice Grown is still in a better position than other smaller farmers forced to fold or stay underground because county rules state that those 1-acre pot grows must sit on 10 acres of farmland.

“We’ve got a lot of farmers who have been on 5 acres, 8 acres 9.2,” Brady said. “This kind of thing for those folks to up and move is challenging.”

While the excessive amount of red tape is one of the bigger downsides of legalization, the director of operations of this farm says there are many positive aspects to being legal that are already starting to take root.

“In one beautiful way, it’s forced a lot of young folks into the political dialogue and gotten them involved in local government that they maybe won’t be before,” Brady said.

Brady herself has a seat on Sonoma County’s Cannabis Advisory Committee–one of many cannabis operators advocating for acceptance of their growing industry as it continues to bloom.

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