As Gov. Newsom prepares to sign the foundation of a cannabis terroir system into law, family farms across the state are excited to have a new tool to protect the legacy of California’s historic growing regions and the conditions that make them special.
The effort to pass Senate Bill 67 was led by State Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) and Assemblymembers Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) and Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale). Groups supporting the effort included the Humboldt County Growers Alliance, Origins Council, and Napa Valley Vintners Association. While HCGA and Origin Council represent the views of many legacy cultivators, the Napa Valley Vintners Association has helped provide a model for the California cannabis industry’s now successful attempt to build and protect their regional identities.
Nicole Elliott, Gov. Newsom’s Senior Cannabis Advisor, told L.A. Weekly, “The governor’s signature on SB 67 reflects a deep commitment to the success of California’s licensed small legacy farmers, support for the regions in which they produce and a hope that this program will help preserve their rightful place in the legal market for years to come.”
For those not savvy in the agriculture lingo, terroir is comprised of everything in the environment involved in the plant’s growth. The way the sun hits the land, the water, the soil, all of it contributes. As you travel across cannabis country in California the terroir changes wildly. This program will help to compartmentalize the landscape with local input and create a mechanism for the small farmers working to survive the rigors of the legal market to add value to their product.
As the legal cannabis market expands at the interstate level in the years to come, it’s very reasonable to expect that cannabis grown in places like Humboldt and Mendocino will be a major commodity. Not to sound like a hater in regards to places like Santa Barbara, Salinas or the Sierra foothills, but stuff grown in The Emerald Triangle will carry a little extra hype as it leaves the state.
Even people supplying the state’s massive underground market will make the jump as markets open. The terroirs will serve as a parachute for those late to the game on the legal market since there will be such a demand for the real deal legacy cultivated weed.
Indoor-cultivated product will still be able to promote itself using its county of origin but will be excluded from the terroir programs. Supporters argued that you can’t artificially create the conditions presented by nature.
Genine Coleman spent 20 years growing cannabis before jumping onto the advocacy side eight years ago, eventually founding the Origin Council to support the economic vitality of her community as it moved into the legal era. She called the day a big moment for the work that started prior to Prop. 64, but there is still plenty left to do after the program kicks off in January.
“We’ve been actively working on this since 2015 in terms of policy advocacy and community organizing, and it’s incredible to see it get to this place,” Coleman told L.A. Weekly.
Coleman found the challenges the state was facing with COVID and fires made SB 67’s journey to the governor’s desk even more bittersweet.
“I think it is really a testament to the broad coalition of support on the industry side and also on the government side,” Coleman said. “So it’s pretty incredible and it’s really heartening, you know, given all the challenges that we’re all facing and that the cannabis industry has been facing.”
Coleman emphasized the whole thing is taking a very traditional approach. Part of that includes the California Department of Food and Agriculture being empowered to create a petition review panel when they start the program. The panel will have the skills needed to find a qualitative link between the product attempting to be passed as terroir and the land.
“It really kind of ties back to this link that the environment, and the region, and the culture, the farming culture and practices, are all tied to really causing specific quality to the product that’s produced from there so it’ll be really exciting to see the research that is embedded in this petition development process, as these petitions move forward,” Coleman said.
With so many legacy farmers still participating in the state’s underground cannabis economy, believed by experts to dwarf the legal one, we asked Coleman if she expects things like the terroir program will provide enough incentive for those folks to make the jump to the legal market.
“Yeah, definitely,” Coleman replied. “You know I think there’s a lot of work ahead of us. And I think that this program and this opportunity, it does a number of things right. So the opportunity to really carry the narrative from these heritage producing regions to the consumer. I think it’s a really compelling story that has sort of just started to really unfold I think in the broader awareness.”