“In the case of cannabis it’s a little bit of a different world because you have indoor-grown cannabis, you have hydroponic cannabis, and you have sun grown, so you need to make some distinctions right at the outset,” says attorney and wine law professor Richard Mendelson, a consultant on the Mendocino Appellations Project (MAP). While climate and soil can play a direct role in plant growth, flavors, and effects for sun-grown cannabis, not all grow methods are equal in that regard.
That’s why California’s cannabis appellation standards will also include factors like “cultural terroir,” strains, and cultivation practices. Efforts to define the specific parameters are already underway, involving collaboration between multiple state and county agencies, consultants, and members of the local cannabis community.
“This has been a pretty high-priority issue for about five years,” says Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association (CGA). “The first step was to get the appellations process written into state law.”
That happened in late June, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed a trailer bill requiring the California Food and Drug Administration (CDFA) to allow “county of origin” appellations by January 1, 2018—the first day of adult-use legalization in California. By 2021, the department will create a framework for establishing appellations of standards, practices and varietals for geographic areas.
The California Growers Association is now working with the CDFA to set baseline appellation parameters, and Mendocino and Humboldt counties are busy creating an additional set of standards for their own regions. The tricky part will be getting the different groups to agree on what those standards should be. Should growers be required to farm organically? Can they cultivate in greenhouses and still use the appellation name? Do they have to harvest and trim by hand? All are questions with outspoken advocates on both sides of the issue, which makes setting a standard harder than it sounds.