(Updated Sept. 15)
On Tuesday June 30th, North Coast Legislators Senator Mike McGuire and Assemblymember Jim Wood introduced Senate Bill 67, which proposes to further refine and develop the state’s cannabis geographic indications program for licensed California cannabis. A geographical indication (GI) is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin. In order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. From the Legislative Council’s Digest:
This bill would limit the establishment of appellations of origin to cannabis planted in the ground, in open air, with no artificial light during the flowering stage of cultivation until harvest. The bill would also require the department to establish standards by which a licensed cultivator may designate a city or city and county of origin for cannabis produced 100% within the designated city or city and county.
Appellation of Origin is a specific type of GI that is premised upon the concept of a causal link between the product and the place of production. The French describe this concept as terroir, the collective influence of the environment which causes the unique qualities and characteristics of region specific products. Terroir is widely accepted as the premise for appellation of origin designations, most notably wine. The bill ensures that cannabis appellation of origin designations are awarded based upon a defensible causal link claim.
Establishing a City of Origin designation that mirrors the existing County of Origin designation provides urban producers with an indication of source, which is another type of GI. In contrast to an appellation of origin, an indication of source is not premised upon a causal link, and only requires that the product on which the indication of source is used was produced in the designated area.
On June 9th, Humboldt Supervisor and Chair of the Board Estelle Fennel sponsored a letter from Humboldt County urging Senator McGuire to pursue this legislation.
“I was very proud to sponsor a letter from our Board in support of this important aspect of terroir requirements. Southern Humboldt is home to world renowned heritage cannabis farmers, many of whom pioneered this industry. So I am very excited to see this important policy move forward ensuring that Appellations of Origin truly reflect the terroir of our region and appreciate Senator McGuire and Assembly member Wood for their leadership.“
On June 23th, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors voted to add their support to this legislative request, illustrating the issue as one impacting California’s heritage cannabis producing regions broadly. Supervisor John Haschak, Chair of the Mendocino Board of Supervisors sponsored the item, which passed unanimously. Supervisor Haschak said:
“The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors strongly supports the recognition of terroir for cannabis cultivation. This legislation is a huge step forward for Mendocino County’s heritage cannabis farmers. It will provide sustainable economic development by connecting craft cannabis to our land and help to support our heritage farmers in preserving and securing their genetic resources, cultural resources, and land holdings. I am proud to have sponsored our letter of support for Appellations of Origin. We would like to recognize Senator McGuire and Assemblymember Wood as well as the Origins Council and the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance for their commitment to this legislation.”
On June 30th, a broad coalition of 16 cannabis advocacy associations submitted a letter of support for SB67 stating:
“As attitudes regarding cannabis continue to shift throughout the country and national markets begin to emerge, this program will communicate the authenticity of California appellation-grown cannabis. Collectively, a comprehensive system for the protection of county of origin, city of origin, and appellations of origin that expresses the diversity of California cannabis production and ensures that California-based products can be marketed accurately and defensibly, will secure California as a formidable leader in positioning this policy across regional, national and global arenas as those opportunities open up.”
Most of the organizations signing onto the letter, most notably the Humboldt County Growers Alliance, supported Senator McGuire’s successful legislative efforts last year with Senate Bill 185, which further strengthened legal protections associated with the use of cannabis appellation of origin and county of origin designations. SB67 reflects a multi-year legislative effort on the part of Senator McGuire and the cannabis industry to develop these historic programs in support of the heritage cannabis farming communities of California.
A 2018 Report issued by the California Growers Association estimates that in 2018, California had 60,000 cannabis cultivators statewide, a significant portion of which are located within the Emerald Triangle, a world renown cannabis producing region comprising Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity Counties. Current estimates show that collectively, the Emerald Triangle holds over 2300 of the state’s approximately 4800 cannabis cultivation licenses, underscoring the investment of the region’s local governments into these designation of origin programs.
A publicly funded branding and marketing initiative for Humboldt cannabis is being developed as a part of the County’s Project Trellis Program. Last year, Mendocino County worked with cannabis industry stakeholders to inform an economic development strategy for Mendocino Cannabis. The development of a regional branding and marketing program for Mendocino cannabis is under discussion as a part of this broader economic development strategy.
California is the first region in the world to establish a legal geographical indications system for cannabis. As other regulated cannabis producing states and countries consider such geographical indication programs locally, they turn to California as a model. As has historically been the case, California continues to lead the world in advancing pioneering public policy for cannabis.