It is no secret that California’s medical cannabis laws are infamously vague. However, there are numerous common sense moves a smart cannabis grower can do to be as legit as possible in today’s hazy legal environment. The gist of these moves is grounded in responsible stewardship, both of this plant that has been used medicinally by over a million people in California alone, and also of the natural environment that we fiercely protect here in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
A short summary of State law regarding cannabis gardens is a helpful starting point. In this state, cannabis cultivation is by default a felony. However, that illegality is excused (and thus legal) in three situations: (1) where growers can prove they are growing for their own personal medical use, (2) where growers can prove they are growing for the medical use of someone they care for, or (3) where growers can prove they cultivate cannabis for a medical cannabis collective or cooperative. As the caregiving exception is largely limited to nurses and spouses of dying people, the most commonly available avenue for legitimacy for non-caregiving cultivators today is to operate the garden collectively or a cooperatively when the garden would produce far more cannabis than is needed for their own personal use.
The law that allows a collective or cooperative garden says that patients “who associate within the State of California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes” will not be subject to the default felonies that would otherwise apply. Since this statute does not define what it means to “associate” to “collectively or cooperatively,” law enforcement usually wants cooperatives to be formally registered with the state as a regular business, as dispensaries will often do. However, the statute is notoriously vague in its inability to define what a “collective” is with any specificity.
So, while there is no magic paperwork that can be filed to become a collective, there are several clear rules of (a green) thumb to abide by when planning to grow this herb. The most important of which is that the expected yield of the plants must be reasonably related to the number of patients in the collective cultivation project. That means that, even if your doctor gives you a “script” for 99 plants or 5 million pounds, a cop will likely have a good chuckle as they slap the cuffs on if you claim those 99 ‘12-footers’ are all for your own personal use. While a good criminal defense attorney may get a Not Guilty verdict later on down the road because of that recommendation, I don’t know anyone who wants to be arrested and go to a jury trial in order to prove they were legit. So, be wise; make a yield estimate based on common sense and extrapolate back from there to find a reasonable number of patients that must be in your collective. There is no exact science for the yield, nor for how much cannabis the various patients can reasonably use, but using wisdom and common sense in planning out your garden will get you far.
Additionally, either make sure the other patients in your collective know that you are cultivating cannabis on their behalf, or to associate with a dispensary for which you become a “member grower.” BEWARE of any shadeballs, including shady attorneys, who will sell you patient recommendations. Buying recommendations, even (or especially) from attorneys, may constitute fraud, conspiracy, aiding and abetting, and a litany of other state and federal crimes, for both the attorney, who in reality is nothing more than an illegal script-peddler, and also for the grower in some instances. While a cannabis conviction carries arguably minimal repercussions, convictions for fraud and other crimes related to the buying and selling of scripts would be devastating.
Another rule of green thumb is that collective grows are supposed to be non-profit. What “non-profit” means unsurprisingly has been the subject of much debate. The appellate courts over the past few years have essentially forced cops, prosecutors and trial judges to accept that cultivators can be compensated for their expenses and labor but, until banks are allowed to accept cannabis-related monies, the financial workings of a cannabis garden will always be suspect to law enforcement. So go meet with a tax attorney or CPA who specializes in medical marijuana issues and take all reasonable precautions with your money.
The final piece of growing legal is to grow green. Please, never divert water from the Yuba watershed unless you have the proper permits, and always make sure you store and dispose of nutrients or pesticides wisely. Good gardening demands a symbiotic relationship with the earth, so learn and utilize best management practices, or “BMPs,” for cannabis cultivation. The foothills are full of organizations working hard to give you the information you need to use these BMPs, so its high time local growers take BMPs seriously. If you are understandably uncomfortable with going to those meetings, quietly seek out those longtime growers in the area who are more than willing to share their green techniques privately. So get with the times and get green.
The takeaway from this article is nothing more than to seek wisdom and common sense in all your cannabis-related endeavors. If you moved to the foothills for the sole purpose of growing cannabis, please respect our land and our community by being a good steward of this venerated plant and of the natural resources intimately involved in growing it. For those who strive to grow legally and use care in their practices, cannabis cultivation is an honorable profession that demands respect. Let’s keep it that way.