This time last year, while I was still learning the ropes as a member of the Board of Equalization, my colleague George Runner and I went to Humboldt County.
I wanted to learn about cannabis, and there isn’t a better place in the world to do that. I toured grow operations, I met with dispensary owners and patients. I had local officials walk me through the various ways their jobs have been shaped by cannabis. The most memorable image from the whole trip is still cash counters at the local 7/11.
Humboldt County, in the heart of the aptly named Emerald Triangle, is a community that has driven much of the advocacy and attitude shift on cannabis, and among California’s 58 counties, Humboldt has not only interwoven cannabis into the economy, but into the communities as well.
That trip set the stage for an incredibly productive year, as we engaged with the Legislature to pass a comprehensive set of regulations for cannabis. Now, ever since that trip to Humboldt County, and definitely throughout the debate over the medicinal cannabis regulations last year, I said that the most important part of this whole framework (other than ending the federal banking blackout) is setting up a comprehensive and effective track and trace program.
Well, Humboldt County is once again leading the way.
On March 1, 2016, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an innovative Track and Trace pilot program for cannabis products. The Humboldt County Agriculture Commissioner’s Office will work with SICPA Security LLC, which runs Track and Trace programs for cigarettes in 46 states (including California). This program will include proof-of-origin verification stamps.
One of the officials who has been a tremendous resource to me, and an amazing leader on these issues in general, is Humboldt County Supervisor Estelle Fennell. She said this about Track and Trace, and I couldn’t agree more:
We need to keep the black market cannabis out of the legal medical system. This program effectively blocks cartels and other illegal producers from passing off their product as being legal and from Humboldt. With a verification stamp, patients will know that environmental laws were followed. The County and State will know that all the taxes have been paid. Law enforcement will know that the production was legally permitted. It works with cigarettes, there is no need to re-invent the wheel.”
Another great feature of Humboldt County’s system is that it was the result of collaboration. Government officials worked directly with producers to come up with a program that worked for everyone.
The MMRSA (Medical Marijuana Regulatory Safety Act), which was signed by Governor Brown in October 2015, provided comprehensive statewide cannabis regulation. It also requires the state to implement a Track and Trace program for cannabis. However, that won’t happen until at least 2018. The Humboldt pilot program will span six months and cover the 2016 harvest season. Local participants come from all license types, from Cultivation to Dispensary.
One participant is Emerald Family Farms. Co-Founder Isaiah O’Donnell said, “We want to stand out, to go above and beyond. We’re proud to follow all the rules and be part of the pilot program. We want to pay our taxes. We want to lead the way.”
That is exactly the right attitude to have. Humboldt County is being incredibly proactive and forward thinking here, and we should all be paying close attention to what they are doing. Track and trace is great for consumer protection. Contaminated products (a danger with any ag product) can be quickly pulled from the shelves, and consumers can be quickly alerted. And black-market actors can be much more easily identified and shut down.
Beyond those public benefits, track and trace helps mature the industry. It helps drive development of brands, it helps consumers make more informed choices about freshness, quality and origin. And the fact that Humboldt County is jumping ahead of the state-imposed 2018 deadline, precisely because it is good for consumer and the industry shows why Humboldt is likely to be the epicenter of a potential post-legalization “green rush” in California.
Why am I particularly proud of the efforts that are about to launch in Humboldt County? “This amazing program never would have happened if it weren’t for Chairwoman Ma’s cannabis stakeholder meetings,” said Luke Bruner, a Humboldt cannabis community organizer who was incredibly helpful to me when I first set out to get a sense of the Cannabis Industry in Humboldt..
“Fiona invited Humboldt officials and cannabis farmers to these meetings. SICPA was at one of these meetings, and we invited them to come tour Humboldt. Their technology can help us separate the good actors from the bad actors. We’re so grateful that she brought everyone together.”
Fiona Ma, CPA is Chairwoman of the California State Board of Equalization. She served in the California State Assembly from 2006-2012 and on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 2002-2006.