For more insight on the proposed permanent cannabis regulations for California, we reached out to Robert Flannery PhD, founder of Dr. Robb Farms and a leading expert on cultivating commercial cannabis.
ELLO: Were there any major changes in California’s proposed permanent cannabis regulations that surprised you? Or that you were surprised they didn’t include or address?
Dr. Robb: I think if you would have asked this question a year ago, I would say, “Yes, it’s surprising that yada yada was changed or added;” however, at this point, everyone in the industry has come to expect surprises at every turn. This doesn’t upset me though. Most people in the industry understand that the Bureau of Cannabis Control has a monumental task ahead of them, and they have already accomplished quite a bit. At this point of time it feels as though we are still building the plane as we fly it, when it comes to the regulatory side of things.
E: Of these changes, what do you expect will have the biggest impact on the cannabis industry, good or bad?
R: The definition of “Outdoor Cultivation” is being adjusted to say that the use of light deprivation (which is used to trigger flowering) will no longer be permissible. There seems to be a movement for light deprivation to be included in the definition for “Mixed-Light Cultivation”. I think this is a step in the wrong direction. Historically, outdoor cultivators have been able to utilize, or not utilize, light deprivation without any other light source than the sun. Outdoor farmers should have the option to use light deprivation as a tool to increase the number of cycles they can do during the season. With the proposed definition, cultivators who wish to maintain their Outdoor Cultivation license will be mandated to only have one harvest per season, as opposed to the potential of two or maybe even three. I don’t like seeing regulations that promote one style of production over another. I would much rather see this as a choice for the farmer.
E: One change is that all products that use the word “organic” in marketing must adhere to federal rules from the National Organic Program. Is this a positive change?
R: The word “organic” is a very loaded term in any agricultural endeavor. I appreciate what the organic movement stands for and I very much welcome it in the cannabis industry. However, I do not want to demonize cultivators who do not follow organic practices but use otherwise sustainable practices. For example, the use of organic fertilizers tends to have more run-off than inorganic fertilizers. The organic fertilizers break down into inorganic components, since that is the only way plant roots can absorb the nutrients. This means that the average organic cultivator will use more fertilizer. I would prefer to see a movement towards sustainable and efficient farming, regardless of the constraints that the “organic” label brings. Having said all that, the original tenets behind the organic movement are principles that I will support all day, every day.
E: What are your thoughts on the updated regulations about exit packaging, that it must be “opaque, child-proof and resealable.” Is this a good change from a consumer safety and/or environmental perspective?
R: I support protections for keeping cannabis out of the hands of children without the supervision of a medical doctor and the child’s parents/guardians. However, I would like to see them be fairly smart without needlessly adding trash that must later be dealt with. I am a big fan of efficiency and sustainability, but I will compromise that for safety.
Fortunately, I think there are ways we can provide both. Safety for our children is of the utmost importance, but I would like to see if there are ways we can provide that security without adding to our ever growing landfills. The opaque, child-proof and resealable packaging is fine by me; however, now that it is being mandated by the retailer, manufacturers and cultivators who are already providing packaging that meets these requirements are now providing redundant safety measures. It’s not a horrible thing, but it’s not as efficient as I would like to see.
E: Many operators were caught off guard by the implementation of the July 1 packaging and testing requirements. Would you recommend operators begin to shift toward the “proposed” permanent regulations, or would you preach caution and to wait until they are law?
R: If operators are not already heading down the road to shift their packaging towards the permanent regulations, I have one question for them: What are you doing? We should all be making moves right now to implement the packaging and testing requirements. These implementations take time to execute (which is why it can be very frustrating when the regulations change regularly). If operators wait until the regulations are law of the land, they will be waiting to get their products to market as well. That spells trouble if you ask me.
E: Do you think regulations on cultivation, packaging and testing are getting more or less restrictive? Which way should they be going?
R: Yes and no. I tend to prefer fewer regulations as an operator, but I understand that some of these regulations will result in an increase of the overall market size. That’s a very good thing in my opinion. There are some aspects of the regulations (I’m including Assembly/Senate Bills in this) that are making it easier for cultivators to function.
I personally do not think that cultivators on the whole are prepared for what Track-and-Trace truly entails. It looks like there might be some movement in Sacramento to ease up the requirements for Track-and-Trace during the early stages of cultivation. This is a good thing, as all of these requirements are only going to increase the price of cannabis in the long run if it requires a cultivator to hire a significant work force to simply attain compliance for the Track-and-Trace program.
E: Any final thoughts on the proposed permanent regulations? Or the trajectory of the industry in general?
R: It’s interesting to see how far the industry in California has come from the pre-Prop 64 days to now. It is my hope that the regulations may provide some solace for consumers who are considering entering the market. I personally feel as though the plant is fairly benign, however, it provides numerous health benefits. If these strict regulations provide some comfort to the consumer and more people enter the market, than I am all for them.
I am seeing a trend in the industry that I definitely think is a step in the right direction. There seems to be an acceptance that is creeping into the subconscious psyche of people in and around the industry where the line between recreational/adult-use and medical use is blurring. As a cultivator, I do nothing different when producing cannabis that is meant for medical or recreational use. I think this stems from the reason why some use cannabis recreationally. Typically, people without diagnosed symptoms who use cannabis tend to do so because they want to relax or want to sleep better or have an overall feeling of wellness. When you think about it, these are still health issues even if a doctor didn’t diagnose a disease or disorder. Hopefully, the evaporating separation between medical and adult-use will bring a greater acceptance for cannabis use across the country.