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How Cannabis Appellations Can Protect Small Farmers. If you live by California’s Emerald Triangle, a region in Northern California known for its flourishing cannabis production since the 1960s, you’re able to buy and consume some of the world’s most potent and flavorful weed around. The region is composed of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties. Apart from having an extensive and rich history in marijuana cultivation, Emerald Triangle farmers employ sustainable growing practices on their outdoor-grown cannabis buds.

Craft cannabis farmers have been fighting to develop an official designation and label that lets customers know exactly where their weed was grown. Currently, cannabis producers can’t mislead customers into believing their products were grown in a certain county if they weren’t grown there. There are no such protections for specific geographical areas within counties, also known as appellations of origins. California farmers are leading the way for the creation of these certified micro-regions to showcase their unique cannabis characteristics.

What is an Appellation of Origin?

Appellations of origin are official geographical designations that require certain agricultural products like wine to be grown with standardized and regulated practices in a specific micro-region. For example, some European wine-growing geographical regions have their own appellations of origin to showcase wine grown in an area with a rich cultural heritage of winemaking. Winemakers can’t make Champagne anywhere else but in the Champagne region in France. The concept is that the same cultivar of a plant will grow differently in different climates and soils.

How Can Small Farmers Establish a Cannabis Appellation?

Small cannabis farmers in California have had to keep up with new California regulations ranging from exorbitant taxes to stringent packaging and labeling regulations. Couple that with the development of massive grow operations and you’ve got a recipe for disaster for small-batch growers. Craft cannabis farmers can use appellations to advertise their product as having unique characteristics afforded by the region’s unique natural environment, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. In the wine industry, this environment is known as terroir.

Appellations of origin don’t just benefit California farmers. This concept can apply across the world into more traditional growing regions such as Afghanistan, India, Mexico, Thailand, Colombia, and more. For small farmers, official designations of origin can prevent big business from attaching the Mendocino or Humboldt name to their products even if they weren’t grown there. Consumers may opt to pay a premium for pot that comes from an area with a rich cannabis growing legacy.

How is California Establishing Appellation Requirements?

California’s Proposition 64 legalized adult-use cannabis and also instructed California’s Department of Food and Agriculture to “establish a process by which licensed cultivators may establish appellations of standards, practices, and varietals applicable to cannabis grown in a certain geographical area in California.” That means that it’s up to cultivators themselves to establish controlled designations of origin, but the Department of Food and Agriculture has to establish the appellation designation process by 2021.

Mendocino Appellations Project

The Mendocino Appellations Project (MAP) spearheaded the appellations movement for cannabis in 2015. MAP conducted a survey of local farmers in the fall of 2015 to create an initial map of bioregions within the counties, not defined by county boundaries, but their ecological system, growing practices, and community. MAP proposed 11 regions:

  • Spyrock-Bell Springs
  • Covelo-Dos Rios
  • Long Valley-Branscomb-Leggett
  • Willits
  • Comptche
  • Ukiah Valley
  • North Mendocino Coast
  • South Mendocino Coast-Greenwood Ridge
  • Anderson Valley-South Mendocino
  • Potter Valley
  • Mountainhouse-South Mendocino

What started off as a small collective of farmers looking to differentiate their unique and eco-friendly growing practices and culture has turned into a full-fledged effort by local organizations, which is now known as the Origins Council. They are working alongside the CalCannabis Appellations Project created by the Department of Food and Agriculture, which held a series of workshops last September to get input from stakeholders on the best way to create the appellation system.

How Does Terroir Affect Cannabis Buds?

Terroir is a term used to describe a geographical area’s natural environment including climate, soil, and topography, which contributes to a strain’s aroma, taste, and potency. Cannabis farmers in the Emerald Triangle counties have been working for years toward creating official appellations of origin designations to promote their sustainable growing practices and unique strains of their terroir.

Some farmers argue that different terroirs can significantly affect the cannabis plant in terms of bud size, cannabinoid content, and terpene levels. A complex array of cannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis buds have been shown to work together to amplify therapeutic effects. Emerald Triangle farmers can market their full-spectrum cannabis buds and their eco-friendly growing practices. Harmful pesticides can be absorbed by cannabis plants, which makes the healthy and natural soil used by Emerald Triangle farmers ideal for growing cannabis.

So far, there’s no significant research on the effects of different terroir on two identical cannabis strains, but craft farmers and consumers can see and smell the difference. Outdoor-grown weed is also seen as less energy-intensive compared to the high electricity use of indoor grows.

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Businesses and consumers can greatly benefit from official appellations of cannabis varieties. When regulations on cannabis appellations come into place, small farmers in California will be able to differentiate themselves from the major producers in the market. Some consumers will prefer the cheaper weed of large producers, but others will be able to appreciate the small-batch and artisan aspect of Northern California weed and beyond.

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