CA ‘Green Pot’ Bill: State Water Laws to Apply to Marijuana

Watering Marijuana (Pete Starman / Getty)
Pete Starman / Getty

A bill currently moving through the California Legislature would ensure that the state’s marijuana growing operations comply with state environmental and water laws.

AB 243, authored by Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), is set to be heard Friday in the Assembly after successfully passing the Appropriations committee last week, according to the Eureka Times-Standard.

Wood’s bill would require commercial marijuana growers in California to obtain a permit from either a state or local authority that would specify exactly how many plants are being grown and where. The bill would allow local governments to set their own limits on the number of plants a grower could cultivate, but sets a general limit of 99 outdoor plants and six indoor plants.

The bill’s environmental component would also require growers to obtain another permit from the State Water Resources Control Board to prove that they are complying with all state and local water laws. Growers would have to prove that water discharge, irrigation runoff, soil disposal and fertilizer use align with state requirements.

“There is a big difference between what traditional agriculture deals with and what small cannabis farmers do,” Wood told the Times-Standard. “So how do we get them closer to what traditional agriculture does? That’s the idea behind this. It’s not meant to be onerous. It’s not meant to be overly burdensome or costly. It’s meant to be environmentally sensitive and a lot of it is common sense.”

Wood added that the bill would provide a “pathway” for commercial marijuana growers to become part of a “traditional farming community.”

The bill makes its way through the Legislature as northern California’s Humboldt County, the country’s top region for commercial marijuana cultivation, prepares for an increasingly likely future of legal pot.

On Friday, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom led a forum on marijuana legalization in Garberville, where he met with marijuana growers, policymakers, law enforcement representatives and environmental groups to discuss legalization’s potential impact on the area. Newsom’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, formed last year in collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union, has held several meetings around the state on issues ranging from marijuana taxes structures to youth education and prevention.

Perhaps the most contentious portion of the bill are the fees associated with obtaining the permits. According to the Times-Standard, the plant limit permit would include fees that would go toward monitoring and enforcement of the legislation. The Appropriations Committee reportedly placed the annual price tag of the bill at $6 million, though fees collected through permits would ostensibly lower that figure.

“People may perceive that this may be the wrong approach, but I’m not afraid to try, and if I have to adjust and have to learn and I have to change I will, but I’m not going to quit working on the issue,” Wood told the paper of his bill. “If I’m not successful this year I will have learned a lot, I’ll regroup and we’ll come at it again. These are hard issues, and I’m not afraid to take on hard issues.”

AB 243 will head for a vote Friday. If it passes, the bill will be taken up by the Senate, where, if approved, it will head to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk in September.