The Mendo Voice’s Cannabis Compliance Primer

A primer for online compliance resources.


THE MENDOCINO VOICE’s Primer on Cannabis Compliance

Here at the Voice we see the central part of our mission as providing information to our readers, the public, the people of Mendocino County. To that end we’ve put together this compilation of different websites and resources concerning regulations for cannabis farmers and businesses. We want to stress that this is intended as a starting resource, a place to get your bearings in this big project of coming into the light, getting legal and getting regulated.

What this definitely is not is a legal guide or set of instructions — nor is it exhaustive. But it’s a good start. Those applying for licenses in municipalities will also need to comply with additional laws, etc. We recommended you consult a professional — attorney, accountant, county official, certified third party compliance expert, all of the above, whoever — for specific advice about your situation.

We’ve just begun to put this together, so if you see something we missed, please let us know at

Business owners, including farmers, are required to register for both local and state licenses for commercial medical, or recreational cannabis operations. State licenses are expected to be issued January 1, 2018. Businesses are also be expected to pay taxes and follow other requirements to operate, such as getting a business license, labor, safety, and public health laws. What’s included here is a list of local and state agencies involved in cannabis regulations generally — not all apply to each different kind of business.

Commercial cultivators and nurseries are considered agriculture and are subject to regulations from a different set of agencies. These include land and water use regulations, which may required permits, etc. Certified third party consultants are listed on the websites of many different agencies so you can make sure you are hiring an approved consultant

Some of these regulations are changing rapidly, we will try to update frequently, but you should not assume it is always totally current.

Here are a few “best practices” guides compiled by organizations on the North Coast:

The following list goes from smallest to largest entities:


  • Fort Bragg – There is a city cultivation ordinance, and a city code regulating dispensaries. The city is also taking steps towards developing cannabis manufacturing regulations, that were discussed at the Feb. 13, 2017 City Council meeting. A public health presentation in June, 2016 is also informative, you can watch it here.
  • Point Arena – The City of Point Arena updates page currently has information on the city’s Ordinance 226 regulating cannabis and license fees passed in January, 2016. Measure AE, which passed in November 2016, created a municipal cannabis business tax. The city is considering creating an Ad Hoc Committee on cannabis as of Feb. 21 2017
  • Ukiah – There are a set of municipal cannabis laws. In Feb. the city council passed a dispensary ordinance, which could be in effect as soon as mid-March.
    • See our ongoing coverage here.
  • Willits – The city currently has a set of cannabis regulations that forbid cultivation, passed in 2007. However, the city council is considering amending municipal regulations to allow for certain cannabis business licenses. These changes are expected in the next couple months.
    • See our ongoing coverage here.


  • Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office: The current cultivation ordinance (9.31), approved by county supervisors in 2016 as an “urgency ordinance”, will sunset on June 30, 2017 or sooner, if new regulations are passed. Applications for the ”urgency” program closed in June, 2016 but registration is not required for 25 plants or less.
  • The Board of Supervisors are in the midsts of an intense negotiation about what the final commercial medical cannabis ordinance will look like. This will be followed by passage of other cannabis business licenses, and then on to recreational cannabis rules.
  • MCSO also approved a list of third party inspectors for the current program. MCSO also administers the County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team (COMMET).
  • Department of Agriculture: The ag department will be regulating cannabis cultivation in the county under the new state regulations, and the agency’s website has information about the county’s proposed cultivation ordinance here.
  • Based on the latest discussion at the board of supervisors, it’s likely that to obtain a “Mendo Grown” label organic practices will have to be followed.
  • Mendocino County: Until new regulations are passed, cultivators can operate under the revised 9.31 program. The county is currently developing regulations that will apply to cannabis cultivators, and another set for the other cannabis business licenses. The Board of Supervisors will approve the final process and there will be opportunities to provide public comment. Their meeting schedule and agendas can be found here, and you can watch all supervisors meetings, committee meetings, and special workshops here.
  • The Mendocino County tax office will coordinate licenses for county cannabis businesses and administer taxes. In November, 2016, the voters of Mendocino County passed a cannabis tax measure, Measure AI.


The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has a Cannabis Cultivation program that requires a cannabis cultivation discharge waiver program for cannabis gardens greater than 2000 sq. feet in area as of February, 2015.

  • Their website includes approved a list of third parties, FAQs, all the paperwork to apply for the waiver, information on inspections and enforcement, appendixes, brochures, powerpoints, staff contacts, and lots of useful links and info in multiple languages.
  • Subscribe to the email list here.



  • The California Department of Fish and Wildlife shares authority with the regional water board. If fish swim in a stream, then the people who regulate the water and the people who regulate the health of the fish end up overlapping. Changes to streambeds, require a streambed alteration permit. And diversion can come under the authority of Fish and Wildlife too. Contact David Manthorne, (707) 441-5900, for more info.
  • The State Water Resources Control Board (which is distinct from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board) maintains a guide for cannabis regulations since the passage of SB 837 in 2016. It includes links to important information on Water Rights, enforcement, water quality, outreach program materials, and info on joining the mailing list for cannabis related announcements
  • State water board’s Division of Water Rights are the people in charge of saying who owns what water, a trickier proposition than you might imagine given the confusion history of water law in our alternatingly dry and lush, green and desert, state. Check out their page for water rights applications.
  • CalFire, formerly the Department of Forestry, is who to talk for your timber harvesting plan, if you want to clear some trees.


The state’s tax collection authority rests in the Board of Equalization and they’ve been doing a lot of work to try to allow cannabis farmers and business people to pay their taxes.

  • And their Tax Guide for Cannabis Businesses: getting started, cultivators, dispensaries, additional resources including info on AUMA, info on recordkeeping regulations


  • Here’s a flyer from the CalCannabis Cultivation program with an overview of the licensing agencies (Feb. 2017).
  • The CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Program will oversee cultivation licenses and “track and trace” programs under MRCSA regulations for the CA Department of Agriculture. The resource page includes information about how to get on mailing lists to receive updates about regulations, public meetings, and events. The agency will also work with the CA Department of Pesticide Regulation to develop pesticide rules for cannabis cultivation.
    • Subscribe to the program’s mailing list here.
    • See our coverage of a September, 2016 public “scoping sessions” in Eureka here.

Employees and Workers Safety:


If you deal with cannabis at some point you might need to drive it down a road, and the CHP will be involved in determining how to assess cannabis intoxication.


  • State Treasurer’s Cannabis Working Group: This working group is seeking solutions to facilitate cannabis businesses with complying with new regulations. The working group is holding monthly meetings around the state throughout 2017 which will address a range of cannabis banking issues. The group has a fact-sheet, a list of resources, and also sent a letter to President Trump. Videos from the meetings will be posted on the website.

The California Legislature


Cole Memo — For the past several years, under the Obama administration the Cole Memo has been official Justice Department policy. While not having the force of law, this policy generally advised that the feds refrain from interfering in the states’ experiments in adult-use marijuana, and medicinal cannabis.

However, the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has indicated that he wants to take a much harder line on cannabis, and all he has to do is sign a piece of paper to revoke the Cole Memo, so this will need to be monitored carefully.

Treasury — Back in 2014 the folks at the Department of the Treasury issued a little guide to the many ways in which cannabis and banking don’t mix. The main message is that if you have a cannabis business banking is tough, but there is some nuance.

If we have omitted something, forgotten something, have a broken link, or otherwise proven absent minded, please (and por favors) drop us a line:

Did you enjoy this article? Consider paying a dollar and supporting local independent journalism.