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Draft Program Environmental Impact Report For California Statewide Cannabis Licensing Program Released For Public Review and Comment

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) released a Draft Program Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) on June 15, 2017, in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to provide information regarding California’s new proposed regulations for medical and adult use cannabis cultivation licensing—the “CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Program” (CCL Program). The formal 45-day public comment period ends on July 31, 2017, and four workshops will be held throughout the state during that time to provide the public and regulatory agencies an opportunity to ask questions and submit comments on the PEIR.

Since the CCL Program could potentially affect numerous environmental areas, the PEIR evaluates 14 topics, including: aesthetics, agriculture and forestry resources, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, hydrology and water quality, and land use and planning.

The draft regulations for cultivation of medical cannabis are included as an appendix to the PEIR. Although CDFA has not yet published proposed regulations related to nonmedical cannabis cultivation, it expects to issue emergency regulations in accordance with the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act.

It is also important to note that the PEIR focuses solely on cannabis cultivation activities under the licensing authority of CDFA and development of the track-and-trace system; it does not address cannabis-related activities that do not require a license from CDFA (i.e., non-commercial uses), nor does it address responsibilities implemented by other state agencies. The PEIR notes that certain topics fall outside CDFA’s regulatory authority because they are regulated by local land use authorities at the project-specific level. As such, many impacts from cannabis cultivation are more appropriately evaluated at a local (and in some cases, site specific) level, not in the PEIR for the CCL Program. Further, although the PEIR addresses ancillary activities in the cumulative impacts analysis, such activities are not considered to be part of the CCL Program because site development activities are generally subject to local authority. However, the recently released PEIR may be used for subsequent CEQA review, to evaluate project-level cannabis cultivation activities, as well as local and regional programs, new management approaches, or other emerging aspects of cannabis cultivation.

Comments received during the 45-day comment period will be reviewed by CDFA and included in the Final PEIR, which CDFA expects to release in Winter 2017, as cultivation license issuance is set to begin in January 2018. The PEIR and additional information on the CCL Program may be found online at: calcannabis.cdfa.ca.gov

(Nedda Mahrou)