Marijuana

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Thieves Are Stealing California's Scarce Water for Illegal Cannabis Farms

Posted By on Tue, Jul 20, 2021 at 8:06 AM

The vandalized water source where most water thefts occur in Lancaster, on July 2, 2021. The water is pumped into large containers that are sold and bought on the sides of the road. - PABLO UNZUETA FOR CALMATTERS
  • Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
  • The vandalized water source where most water thefts occur in Lancaster, on July 2, 2021. The water is pumped into large containers that are sold and bought on the sides of the road.

One day last spring, water pressure in pipelines suddenly crashed In the Antelope Valley, setting off alarms. Demand had inexplicably spiked, swelling to three and half times normal. Water mains broke open, and storage tanks were drawn down to dangerous levels.

The emergency was so dire in the water-stressed desert area of Hi Vista, between Los Angeles and Mojave, that county health officials considered ordering residents to boil their tap water before drinking it.

"We said, ‘Holy cow, what’s happening?’” said Anish Saraiya, public works deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. 

It took a while for officials to figure out where all that water was going: Water thieves — likely working for illicit marijuana operations — had pulled water from remote filling stations and tapped into fire hydrants, improperly shutting off valves and triggering a chain reaction that threatened the water supply of nearly 300 homes.

As drought grips most of California, water thievery across the state has increased to record levels. Bandits in water trucks are backing up to rivers and lakes and pumping free water they sell on a burgeoning black market. Others, under cover of darkness, plug into city hydrants and top up. Thieves also steal water from homes, farms and private wells, and some even created an elaborate system of dams, reservoirs and pipelines during the last drought. Others are MacGyvering break-ins directly into pressurized water mains, a dangerous and destructive approach known as hot-tapping. 

In Mendocino County, the thefts from rivers and streams are compromising already depleted Russian River waterways. In one water district there, thefts from hydrants could compromise a limited water supply for fighting fires, which is why they have put locks on hydrants.


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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

HSU Expanding Curriculum with Polytechnic Push

Posted By on Tue, Jun 15, 2021 at 11:55 AM

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As a way of prioritizing Humboldt State University's push to become polytechnic, the university is expanding its curriculum to include more STEM-related degree programs as soon as fall of 2023.

“This is what a 21st-century education looks like: programs where students build the skills to have meaningful careers and a nuanced understanding of society’s complex issues so they can make the world a better place,” says Jenn Capps, HSU provost and vice president of academic affairs.

According to the release, HSU will formally submit proposals to California State University to add applied fire science and management, cannabis studies, data science, energy systems engineering, engineering and community practice, geospatial information science and technology, marine biology, mechanical engineering and software engineering for the 2023 fall semester. The programs, along with other applied and social sciences slated for 2026 and 2029, must be approved by the CSU's Chancellor's Office, the CSU Board of Trustees and receive accreditation from various organizations.

“These programs are a win for HSU and the greater north state,” says Mary Oling-Sisay, vice provost and dean of undergraduate and graduate studies. “They bring to life what we do and what we’re known for and will augment our current offerings in a very significant way.”

Read the full press release below.

HSU Continues Polytech Push with Plans for Several New Programs

Drawing on its strengths in STEM, environmental and social responsibility, and experiential learning, Humboldt State University has submitted documentation of its intent to launch several new and innovative undergraduate and graduate degree programs as soon as Fall 2022 and Fall 2023.

HSU will formally submit proposals for the following programs to the California State University for consideration: Applied Fire Science & Management, Cannabis Studies, Data Science, Energy Systems Engineering, Engineering & Community Practice, Geospatial Information Science & Technology, Marine Biology, Mechanical Engineering, and Software Engineering for Fall 2023. (See descriptions below.)

“This is what a 21st century education looks like: programs where students build the skills to have meaningful careers and a nuanced understanding of society’s complex issues so they can make the world a better place,” says Jenn Capps, provost and vice president of academic affairs.

The programs are among those prioritized through the collaborative polytechnic planning process on campus. The fast-track timeline is highly dependent on additional state funding that has been proposed by the Governor and is being considered by the Legislature.

These programs, in addition to those in applied and social sciences slated for 2026 and 2029, are pending the necessary approvals by the CSU Chancellor’s Office, CSU Board of Trustees, plus accreditation from various organizations.

The announcement comes as HSU explores becoming the third polytechnic university in the CSU and the only one in Northern California. The new programs align with the University’s vision of becoming a polytechnic that builds on a strong liberal arts foundation and long-standing commitment to sustainability and social justice; and infuses traditional ecological knowledge, renewable energy, and more.

A polytechnic status would have broad implications for the region and state. It would help revitalize the economy of the North Coast (where HSU is the largest employer), provide educational opportunities to students across the state, and help meet California’s workforce needs.

“These programs are a win for HSU and the greater north state,” says Mary Oling-Sisay, vice provost and dean of undergraduate and graduate studies. “They bring to life what we do and what we’re known for and will augment our current offerings in a very significant way.”

New HSU Degree Programs

Applied Fire Science & Management, Bachelor of Science, will develop the practical knowledge and skills to become fire science or management professionals. Created in collaboration with HSU’s respected Forestry & Wildland Resources and Native American Studies programs, the Applied Fire Science & Management major will also include a breadth of perspectives and knowledge systems (e.g., traditional ecological knowledge), with an emphasis on incorporating indigenous practices.

Cannabis Studies, Bachelor of Art, engages a curriculum that centers place with people, planet, and prosperity as related focal areas. These areas encompass environmental, life and physical sciences as well as geography; sociology, anthropology, psychology, history, politics, social work, Native American Studies, child development, kinesiology, and criminology and justice studies; and economics, business, and recreation management.

Data Science, Bachelor of Science, develops the skills to synthesize knowledge and apply contemporary statistics, data analysis, and computational science methods to solve social and environmental problems.

Energy Systems Engineering, Bachelor of Science, incorporates elements commonly included in Civil, Environmental, Mechanical, and Electrical engineering disciplines. It is designed to prepare students for careers in developing, designing, operating, and analyzing clean energy systems.

Geospatial Information Science & Technology, Bachelor of Science, prepares students for careers as Geographic Information System (GIS) analysts and specialists, remote sensing analysts, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and geographers.

Engineering & Community Practice, Master of Science, develops future engineering leaders who will sustain, restore, and protect our natural resources and the environment.

Marine Biology, Bachelor of Science, explores the diversity of marine life, its evolutionary history, the importance to our planet, and how it is impacted by human activities.

Mechanical Engineering, Bachelor of Science, explores a range of integrated engineering systems that include thermal and electromechanical elements.

Software Engineering, Bachelor of Science, applies engineering concepts to software development. It encompasses the development, operation, and maintenance of programs.
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Thursday, May 13, 2021

County Allows Cannabis Growers to Apply for Tax Refunds in Wake of Court Ruling

Posted By on Thu, May 13, 2021 at 4:54 PM

After a an appeals court ruled the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors overstepped when it "impermissibly broadened the scope" of the cannabis tax voters approved in 2016, the county is beginning the process of refunding potentially millions of dollars in tax payments.

In a press release issued today, the county is introducing a process for people who paid cannabis excise taxes under Measure S from 2017 through 2021 to request a refund.

"In order for an application to be considered for a refund, taxpayers need to provide documentation that they did not cultivate cannabis during the year they were assessed a tax or that they cultivated an area that was different from that of their permit," the press release states. "Taxpayers seeking a refund will need to submit an assessment appeal application, along with an additional form that is specific to the refund claim, to the Clerk of the Board's Office. A separate application must be submitted for each year that a refund is sought, within four years from the date the tax was paid."

The county will then review the applications and compare them to "available information, including but not limited to satellite imagery and state tax records," and then either pause a settlement with the applicant or more to an assessment appeal hearing.

For background on the lawsuit challenging the board's changes to Measure S, as well as the tax measure itself, read past Journal coverage here. And find the full press release from the county copied below.


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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Going Big

Cannabis organization opposes Sun Valley's large pot farm

Posted By on Thu, Mar 18, 2021 at 1:00 AM

Humboldt County's largest cannabis trade organization has come out in opposition to a proposal to construct a 23-acre cannabis farm in the Arcata bottoms, largely on the grounds that the project is just too big.

"Historically, [the Humboldt County Growers Alliance] has supported many cannabis projects before the Planning Commission, while remaining neutral on others," reads the alliance's March 15 letter to the commission. "Previously, however, HCGA has not formally opposed any specific cannabis project in Humboldt County. The scale of the proposed project, however, as well as its violation of a number of land use principles that guide other cannabis projects in Humboldt, have led our members to overwhelmingly express their opposition to this project as proposed, and our policy committee to adopt the position in this letter by a vote of 9-0."

The proposal — put forward by a sister company of Sun Valley Floral Farms — would see a 23-acre greenhouse growing operation spanning more than 1 million square feet erected on a 38-acre former mill site between Foster Avenue and 27th Street, near Sun Valley's existing bulb farm. If approved (as the Journal went to press it was slated to go before the Humboldt County Planning Commission for a conditional use permit hearing March 18, with the commission's decision appealable to the board of supervisors) the project would be by far the largest cannabis farm in Humboldt County, and one of the larger legal operations in Northern California.

But the HCGA's letter is only the latest in what is shaping up to fierce opposition to the proposal, as hosts of neighbors, Arcata residents and environmental groups concerned about the project's potential impacts to area traffic, air quality, light pollution and water. Some have also argued that environmental review on the project has been insufficient and should have included a full environmental impact report rather than the less exhaustive mitigated negative declaration — used for projects where it's determined all environmental impacts can be mitigated into insignificance.

The project is being proposed by the Arcata Land Co., LLC. Though technically a stand-alone company, it lists Sun Valley Floral Farms CEO Lane DeVries as its principal and, in an interview with the Lost Coast Outpost, the Sun Valley CEO is said to have lumped the two companies' interests together, saying the move into cannabis was necessitated by Sun Valley's economic struggles. (DeVries did not immediately respond to a Journal message seeking comment for this story.)

The proposal would include 17.2 acres of light-deprivation greenhouses and 5.7 acres that would be operated as mixed light, meaning they use both natural sunlight and grow lights. For the mixed-light greenhouses, the staff report states "strict adherence to night sky standards will be achieved" with light and glare controlled by using "blackout plastic/fabric" to cover the structures and keep light from escaping.

In its letter, HCGA points to the staff report's estimate that the project will not demand any more than 1.9 megawatts of electricity at any time, which would be 1.7 percent of the entire county's average energy demand, according to a report from Schatz Energy Research Center.

Water for the operation would come from a well on the property, which an initial study has shown would supply more than enough to serve the project. The greenhouses would be outfitted with large fans and carbon filters to mitigate smell. If that proves insufficient, they would also use odor neutralizers such as Ecosorb, which bills itself as a "natural industrial odor control" system that uses non-toxic, plant-based products to break down and neutralize odor molecules.

Currently, the property has some greenhouses used to grow flowers, with adjacent fields used to grow both flowers and mixed row crops, according to a county staff report. About 40 full-time equivalent employees currently work the site — a number that would jump to about 115 if the cannabis operation is approved.

In comments to the Lost Coast Outpost, DeVries stressed the project is really about keeping people employed locally, noting that the domestic flower industry was already in a tough spot with international competition and rising labor costs when COVID-19 hit, wiping out 2020's lucrative Easter season, further raising costs and limiting markets.

This project, he said, "would allow our company to continue operations and continue the employment of 450 people. The well-being of them and their families is depending on the approval of this project."

And seemingly in anticipation of the concerns of some within the cannabis industry, DeVries told the Outpost that it's not "necessarily" Sun Valley's intent to be competitive with other local operations and the project "helps Humboldt stay relevant in the California cannabis market."

DeVries is certainly correct that other areas of the state are in the process of permitting large-scale cultivation. Last month, Santa Barbara County rejected an appeal of an 86.8-acre cannabis cultivation project and, closer to home, the Halo Collective announced plans to cultivate two harvests of 60 acres of cannabis per year on a 1,600-acre property in Lake County. (Halo's partner company in the project, Green Matter Holding Inc., has a sister company in Humboldt County — Humboldt Standard — that once boasted the largest legal grow in California on 8.5 acres in Willow Creek.)

In its letter, HCGA makes clear it disagrees with DeVries' take that scaling up is necessary for Humboldt County to stay relevant. First off, the alliance argues that Humboldt County is home to 30 percent of the state's cannabis farms and currently leads California in both cultivation licenses and independent farms by a large margin. And the average size of Humboldt County's farms is currently half an acre, the alliance writes.

"While it is correct that large-scale cultivation is occurring elsewhere around the state, with several 20-plus acre cultivation projects approved on the Central Coast and parts of Northern California, the existence of these industrial scale projects in traditional agricultural regions only increases the importance of preserving Humboldt's reputation for small-scale, craft and independent production," the alliance writes. "While Humboldt will never compete with traditional agricultural regions in terms of size and scale of production, it is well positioned to compete on craft, quality, terroir and a global reputation for high-quality, artisan cannabis.

"... Additionally, the proposed project site in the cold, wet and foggy Arcata bottoms, which is poorly suited to cannabis flower production, provides no conceivable benefit for the reputation or quality of the Humboldt brand, and only threatens to increase misinformation that Humboldt County has become dominated by industrial-size farms post-legalization," the letter continues, adding that the alliances understands it's not the planning commission's job to "vet the quality of cannabis" a project will produce.

It's worth noting the project as proposed is only possible due to the Heavy Industrial zoning of the property, which — in contrast to other zoning designations — leaves the planning commission total discretion to decide when a project is too big. That will leave the commission (and potentially later the board of supervisors) to wrestle with the competing interests of a company trying to save and even create jobs and a neighborhood concerned about impacts, while also charting the best course forward for one of Humboldt County's largest industries.

Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or thad@northcoastjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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Friday, September 25, 2020

Ford Sentenced in Cannabis Insurance Embezzlement Case

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2020 at 4:06 PM

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Christopher Wilson sentenced John Ford to serve 90 days in jail and five years probation after the former insurance broker pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement.

An investigation by the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, the District Attorney's Office and the California Office of Insurance alleged that Ford contracted with various clients in 2016, including several cannabis businesses looking for insurance policies, but simply pocketed premium payments rather than purchasing policies. He was charged with 13 counts of embezzlement and grand theft.

According to a press release from the DA's office, Ford's sentence includes an order to make restitution payments to all victims.

Read the full press release copied below:

PRESS RELEASE

September 25, 2020

District Attorney Maggie Fleming announced that on September 24, 2020, Judge Christopher Wilson sentenced former insurance broker, John Ray James Ford, to five years of formal probation and 90 days in jail. Mr. Ford pled guilty to violating Penal Code Section 503, felony embezzlement. A client and the client’s attorney first reported misappropriation of funds by Mr. Ford to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO). The HCSO, Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office, and the California Department of Insurance then collaborated on an investigation. The investigation revealed that in 2016, Mr. Ford had contracted with various clients, including cannabis-related businesses, to broker insurance policies on their behalf. After receiving premium payments from clients, he either did not put coverage in place or established policies that were subsequently cancelled by the insurer for non-payment. Mr. Ford used the payments from clients for his own business and personal expenses. Mr. Ford’s sentence includes an order to make restitution to all victims.  

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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Fortuna to Fine Commercial Cannabis Growers, T-S reports

Posted By on Tue, Sep 22, 2020 at 6:56 PM

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Fortuna will begin fining commercial cannabis growers in the city $1,000 a day after a unanimous vote Monday by the city council, according to the Times-Standard.

Read the full story here.
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Monday, September 14, 2020

Deputies Not After Cannabis in Evacuation Zones

Posted By on Mon, Sep 14, 2020 at 3:45 PM

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A false rumor picking up steam on social media alleges that Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office deputies are serving warrants on marijuana properties in the Island Mountain area where the owners have been evacuated because of the wildfire threatening Humboldt County on its southeastern border with Trinity County.

“That is not true. We do have our special services deputies in the Evacuation zones, however they are there for life protection purposes and are not serving cannabis search warrants,” HCSO spokesperson Samantha Karges, adding there are five deputies working in the area.

Lt. Shawn Sopoaga added, “We have our Special Services Division prepped and ready in southeastern Humboldt if emergency evacuations are needed. They have been doing routine patrols in the area to show law enforcement presence as a crime prevention method since most people have evacuated their homes. …We are not conducting enforcement actions and/or search warrants.”
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Monday, July 13, 2020

CDFW: Online Cannabis Permitting Workshop Happens July 22

Posted By on Mon, Jul 13, 2020 at 6:10 PM

FILE
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The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), CalCannabis and the State Water Board will host a free online cannabis permitting workshop on July 22 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., according to a CDFW press release.

"The free workshop is ideal for new and existing commercial cannabis cultivators and consultants," the press release states. For more information, see the full press release below:

Free Online Commercial Cannabis Permitting Workshop July 22

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), California Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Division (CalCannabis) and State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) are hosting a free online commercial cannabis cultivation permitting workshop.

The free workshop is ideal for new and existing commercial cannabis cultivators and consultants. Those interested in attending can use the link below to watch the webcast – no registration is required. Closed captions will be provided. 

Questions can be submitted in advance of and during the event by sending an email to askcannabis@wildlife.ca.gov with “Cannabis Webcast” as the subject line. Questions not answered during the webcast will be forwarded to the appropriate agency for a response.

Workshop Details:

Wednesday, July 22 from 9 to 11:00 a.m.

Webcast link: https://video.calepa.ca.gov/


CalCannabis will provide an overview of the state’s cannabis cultivation licensing program and review their requirements for commercial cannabis farming. CDFW will cover permitting, using the online notification system (EPIMS) and how to reduce environmental impacts. The State Water Board will review the cannabis policy, permitting process and other important information. Other regulatory agencies will also present. 

For more information about becoming a licensed commercial cannabis farmer and for an overview of the California Cannabis Track-and-Trace METRC System, visit the CalCannabis website at calcannabis.cdfa.ca.gov, call 1‑833-CALGROW (1-833-225-4769) or send an email to calcannabis@cdfa.ca.gov. To report suspected illegal cannabis cultivation or related complaints, call the CalCannabis toll-free hotline: 1-833-WEED-TIP (1-833-933-3847).

To learn more about CDFW’s cannabis program, visit wildlife.ca.gov/cannabis or send an email to askcannabis@wildlife.ca.gov. To report environmental crimes, such as pollution, water diversions and poaching, please call the CalTIP hotline at (888) 334-2258 or text information to “TIP411” (847411).

 

To learn more about the State Water Board’s role in cannabis cultivation permitting, visitwaterboards.ca.gov/cannabis. For permitting and compliance assistance, send an email to dwq.cannabis@waterboards.ca.gov or call (916) 341-5580 (Cannabis Cultivation General Order), or send an email to cannabisreg@waterboards.ca.gov or call (916) 319-9427 (cannabis cultivation water rights).

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Monday, July 6, 2020

Humboldt County’s 'Cannabis Planning Program' Lacks Fiscal Transparency, Grand Jury Reports

Posted By on Mon, Jul 6, 2020 at 1:23 PM

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Four years after recreational cannabis was legalized in California, the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury has a released report entitled "A Growing Concern." The report focuses on the Planning and Building Department's record keeping and cash handling procedures for the cannabis industry. 

"There is a notable lack of in-depth reporting of revenues and expenditures that would accurately show the citizens of Humboldt County the effectiveness and the operational and fiscal efficiency of the Cannabis Planning program," the report states.

Part of the problem, according to the report, is that cannabis remains a Schedule 1 substance under federal law, meaning banks will not allow cannabis cultivators to open accounts or establish lines of credit. As a result, permit fees and abatement fines collected by the county are often paid in cash.

"The Planning and Building Department assumes the risk inherent in the storage and handling of large sums of cash," the report states, requiring "a highly transparent, very accurate system of accounting."

The report concludes with the recommendation that the Planning and Building Department take the following actions: Update the website to reflect changes in regulations and offer relevant information regarding permit applications; undergo an audit by the Auditor/Controller of all incoming receipts, and make the results public; hire a qualified accountant to organize and maintain financial records; and direct customers who pay in cash through the Treasurer-Tax Collector's office.

The report can be read in its entirety below. 
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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

County Urges Cannabis Employers to Encourage Staff to Get Free COVID-19 Tests

Posted By on Wed, Jul 1, 2020 at 4:04 PM

The Humboldt County Joint Information Center has released a handy information sheet for the cannabis industry during the COVID-19 Crisis. In it, they suggest employers encourage staff to participate in free COVID testing.

Updated information on how to practice personal safety in preventing the spread of COVID for cannabis operations. - HUMBOLDT COUNTY JOINT INFORMATION CENTER
  • Humboldt County Joint Information Center
  • Updated information on how to practice personal safety in preventing the spread of COVID for cannabis operations.

The center also notes that employees who carpool with others should “always wear a mask and keep windows open to improve vehicle ventilation to the greatest extent possible.”

Last week, anonymous sources provided us with the information that nine workers at one Southern Humboldt cannabis farm had tested positive for COVID-19.

Though Dr. Teresa Frankovich, the Humboldt County Public Health Officer, declined to confirm this, speaking generally about cannabis farms, she did offer some information to those in the industry.

She said, “We want to make sure that whether they are legal or not legal operations, that they understand we’d like to work with them. Basically if they have someone sick, we’d like to be able to help work with them to get people tested and to really just make sure everyone around them is safe.”

At this point there are only the three places listed above available regularly but try calling the COVID hotline at (707) 441-5000 and ask if there are any additional testing places coming to your area.

For more information on how cannabis employers can protect against the spread of COVID-19, see here.

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