Napa County Ballot to Include Initiative for Commercial Cannabis Cultivation

Wine industry representatives are worried about the smell affecting their tasting rooms.
Napa County Ballot to Include Initiative for Commercial Cannabis Cultivation
Michael Warwick/ Shutterstock

Will wine tasters be set off their cabernet sauvignon should Napa County decide to allow farmers to legally grow marijuana? Local vineyard industry leaders told the Napa County Board of Supervisors that they would at a meeting on Tuesday. In response, the board decided to send the issue of local pot grows to the county’s voters in next year’s March elections.

At issue was the cannabis agriculture regulations presented in Measure J, which has been backed by the cannabis industry. That proposal includes limits on the size of cannabis grow ops, and how close they can be planted next to vineyards. It also includes harsh limits on the kinds of pesticides that can be used on marijuana.

The pesticide issue presents its own concerns. An expert presenting at Tuesday’s meeting concluded that unlawful chemicals could reach cannabis fields from nearby vineyards. Conversely, producers of other crops worried that cannabis farmers’ failure to include such bug killers would leave neighboring fields susceptible to any entering plagues. “Cannabis could create vectors for introducing diseases or pests that are otherwise controlled,” said auditor Mark Lovelace of HDL Companies.

Napa County has been slow in deciding whether it would opt into California’s relatively new recreational cannabis industry. The voter-approved Proposition 64 instituted the system back in January of 2018. But there have been loud grumblings about whether cannabis would imperil the area’s wine industry, since there are much higher financial yields for marijuana agriculture than wine grapes.

It has been estimated that cannabis agriculture could bring $760,000 to $1.52 million in yearly tax revenue to the county.

But some say that what is at issue in Napa is the nature of the area’s vaunted reputation for wine culture. “I get it that the hundred-acre grows are way different than half-acre and 1 acre grows,” said board chairman Ryan Gregory. “But you lose control of the odor problem immediately.”

Perhaps he had been influenced by the somewhat hysterical assertions of wine industry professionals at the meeting.

“You can have a cannabis grow an hour and a half away from a tasting room and have clients at the tasting room smell the marijuana as if it’s growing right next to them,” opined Ryan Klobas, CEO of the Napa County Farm Bureau.

Klobas is far from the first wine guy to make the assertion that pot harms varietals. In 2017, the CEO of the chamber of commerce in Lodi, California, told the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors that nearby cannabis grow ops could damage wine grapes while they were still on the vine. “The odor travels, it could permeate grape skins and render the wine deficient, causing it to lose value,” he told the press after the meeting.

Despite such dubious assertions, however, some cannabis advocates present at the meeting emerged heartened that voters would have a say on the matter come next spring.

“This is a very happy day for me,” commented founding member of the Napa Valley Cannabis Association Eric Sklar.

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