Marijuana Growers Sue California Over Lack Of Limits On Big Farms

Photo Credit: Robin Abcarian

A coalition of marijuana growers is suing the state in a bid to block regulations they contend will allow big-money cultivators to drive boutique farmers out of business.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Sacramento County Superior Court by the California Growers Association, comes a little more than three weeks into California’s experiment in legal recreational sales and amplifies long-held fears of a corporate takeover of cannabis agriculture.

The suit challenges state regulations that allow businesses to acquire an unlimited number of a certain type of growing licenses despite provisions in the voter-approved Adult Use of Marijuana Act urging protections for small and medium-sized growers.

These growers were counting on the state to set limits for at least the first few years of legalization, giving them a chance to get a foothold before the big operators moved in.

Proposition 64, passed by voters in 2016, did not include specific mandates, but the California Department of Agriculture proposed a limit of 5 acres per farm for the first five years — a restriction growers had rallied behind.

The state, however, did not include the provision in regulations released in November, and it was not in place when recreational sales began Jan. 1. The guidelines instead limit the size of a marijuana grow depending on what kind of license a farmer obtains, with a maximum of about an acre per license. But there are no limits on the number of licenses a farmer can have.

That means a big-spending owner may be able to obtain dozens or even hundreds of licenses, said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, an advocacy group for more than 1,000 marijuana farmers, business owners and patients.

The lawsuit says the failure to set limits “will have a devastating effect on small and medium cannabis businesses, local economies throughout the state, and the environment” by driving down prices and forcing existing growers to revert to illegal sales.

Allen said the suffering is likely to be concentrated in Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties, which by some estimates produces 60 percent of the marijuana consumed in the United States.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture, which issues cannabis cultivator licenses, did not respond to a request for comment.