Locals in the cannabis industry talk about the product once grown in outdoor gardens like the stuff of legend. However, when cannabis became legal in 2016, county regulations requiring cannabis to be grown in greenhouses forced outdoor growers to either shut down their operation or continue under a shroud of secrecy.
However, outdoor growers in some parts of the county may have new opportunity to emerge from the black market and operate as legitimate businesses after the Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted to update the county’s regulations to encourage outdoor growing operations.
The county previously attempted to facilitate outdoor growing with a five-year pilot program in 2019, but expensive fees and an intense permitting process prevented all attempted outdoor growing operations from earning county approval. Growers could only take up 10,000 square feet; cannabis could only be grown where landowners could prove it had been grown prior to 2016; and cannabis grows had to be at least 500 feet away from the nearest off-site structure.
On May 18, the supervisors amended some of the rules, halving the 500-foot limit and doubling the 10,000-square-foot growing area. (The pre-2016 rule is unchanged.) They also increased the pilot from five to eight years.
The changes are aimed at making outdoor growing a feasible business operation; however, some industry players still raised concerns. The county maintained rules against hoop houses and light deprivation techniques that growers say could help the business pencil out. Bob Roach, executive director of the Monterey County Cannabis Industry Association, says he is worried small-scale growers will have trouble with the intensive requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.
Qualifying outdoor growers in Big Sur, Carmel Valley and Cachagua will have the ability to begin gardens while working their way through the permitting process. County staff will monitor the program until 100 outdoor permits are approved.