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New Cannabis Laws Will Help to Protect California Wildlife

By Fiona Ma

The New Year brought sweeping new regulations, and with them, stability and clarity to the California Cannabis Industry, as the sweeping reform and regulatory laws passed last year took effect.

Ending nearly two decades of a Wild West business model will help patients, law enforcement, and local government, and of course, the men and women in the industry itself. But let’s not forget another big winner: Bambi — and all the wildlife killed by illegal pesticide use in grow operations each year.

Cannabis is now treated as an agricultural product under California state law, and its cultivation will fall under the same rigorous environmental and conservation standards that farmers, ranchers and winemakers all operate under. Good actors who comply with the law will thrive, and bad actors will be easier to track and shut down.

These bad actors have gained notoriety for their impact on California’s natural areas. Illegal water diversions have gotten the most attention, but the use of dangerous pesticides that poison everything from deer mice to actual deer (as well as the predators like foxes, bears and mountain lions that become poisoned themselves when eating tainted prey) have wrought horrendous consequences for California’s wildlife.

I’ve met with responsible cannabis cultivators over the last year, in addition to the hundreds of farmers, winemakers and agriculture folks whom I’ve worked with since my service on the Assembly Agriculture Committee. I know they share my abhorrence at such flagrant abuse of our pristine natural areas, and are committed to putting these bad actors out of business.

An attitude the industry needs to adopt

That is exactly the right attitude the Cannabis Industry needs to adopt now that 2016 is here. As with other issues like ensuring cannabis is only delivered by trained and sober distributors, or moving away from an all-cash business model that makes dispensaries targets for violent crime, voters will look to the medical Cannabis Industry for signs that their concerns are being proactively addressed.

Voters who might otherwise be inclined to support the concept of legalization may very well balk at the notion of expanding an industry that is perceived to be poisoning wildlife, stealing water, and damaging natural areas.

That is why the industry needs to work as cooperatively and as productively as possible with the California Department of Agriculture, Department of Public Health, and the Governor’s Bureau of Medical Marijuana, as those agencies draft regulations.

This is a fantastic opportunity for the Cannabis Industry to showcase its sense of social responsibility and acute sensitivity to mitigating negative consequences of cultivation.

The best way to do that is by embracing a comprehensive set of regulations that reward the good actors and put the bad actors out of business, and making it clear to the people of this state that the Cannabis Industry will do everything it can to protect wildlife and natural areas. But there are additional steps the industry should consider to emphasize its commitment to protecting wildlife.

Here’s what needs to be done

First, responsible growers and cannabis associations should emphasize the best practices of pesticide use. Pamphlets, fliers, informational website, YouTube videos — the industry needs to be using every tool in the outreach toolbox to reach cultivators — and show local government leaders, farmers and ranchers, conservationists and every day Californians that the industry is being proactive in raising awareness among its own members.

Second, the Cannabis Industry needs to fully police itself. Bad actors who kill wildlife taint the reputation of the entire industry, and the industry needs to recognize that a few anecdotes about deer poisoned by rummaging through pesticide contaminated trash-heaps can be enough to kill support for legalization. Voters who make the connection of cannabis grow operations=dead wildlife will be lost to the industry, and virtually impossible to recover.

Third, the industry needs to make it clear to state regulation writers that they want and expect they highest possible standards. Every regulator is a watchdog, and the industry should make clear that the watchdogs are welcomed enthusiastically.

The Cannabis Industry has a wonderful opportunity to take a pivotal step forward with these new regulations. As I have said consistently, it’s vital that we get every aspect of this right — and for a great many of the every day Californians who will decide on legalization that means keeping Bambi from being poisoned.

Fiona Ma

Fiona Ma

About Fiona Ma, CPA, State Board of Equalization

Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Emeritus Fiona Ma was elected to the State Board of Equalization (SBOE) on November 5, 2014 and represents close to 10 million people in 23 counties from the Oregon border to Santa Barbara County. The 5,000 person tax agency affects every taxpayer in California and has broad regulatory and adjudicatory powers and is the only elected tax board in America.

Ms. Ma was elected to represent the 12th Assembly District from November 2006 to November 2012 (after serving the maximum three terms). She was the #112 woman to ever be elected to the California Legislature and the first Asian woman to ever serve as Speaker pro Tempore since 1850 (first Legislature). Ms. Ma first became interested in politics as a small business owner advocating on behalf of other small businesses. She was an elected delegate to the 1995 White House Conference on Small Business under President Bill Clinton and later was elected a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 2002-2006.

In the Assembly, Ms. Ma authored groundbreaking legislation to protect consumers, prevent the spread of Hepatitis B, and increase access to quality healthcare. As a joint author of Proposition 1-A (Nov 2008), she was the legislature’s leading advocate to bring high-speed trains to California. Additionally, Ms. Ma has been and continues to be a leader in promoting trade and fostering relationships between California and Asia.

Ms. Ma received her B.S. from the Rochester Institute of Technology (NY), her M.S. in Taxation from Golden Gate University (SF), and an MBA from Pepperdine University. She has been licensed in California as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) since 1992. Fiona can be reached at [email protected]

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