HCGA Public Comment on Appellations Regulations

Updated: Oct 1


Since late February, HCGA has worked with partners in other legacy cultivation regions to develop consensus-based comments in response to CDFA’s proposed cannabis appellation regulations. This morning, Origins Council- working in partnership with trade associations including HCGA, Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, Trinity County Agricultural Alliance, Sonoma County Growers Association, Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, and the Big Sur Farmers Association - formally submitted these comments to CDFA, one day in advance of the May 6 public comment deadline.


Click here to read the full comments submitted to CDFA in partnership with Origins Council and other legacy cultivation regions.


Cannabis appellations are unique as a program that is specially designed to promote the long-term success of California’s cannabis farming communities, and so these regulations were a major priority for HCGA and our coalition partners. These comments express our appreciation for California's efforts to create the world’s first cannabis appellations program, but also the need for the state to go further to design a robust program that will effectively protect the collective legacy of cannabis producing regions over the coming years and decades.


The submitted public comment span 26 pages and comment on a wide range of issues, including:


  • Ensuring appellations hold integrity and are connected directly to the land and terroir of a region - experience in wine and other industries has shown that the long-term value of appellations stems from ability to demonstrate a unique causal link between the place in which cannabis was produced, and the specific quality of the final product. It’s this connection to the land that locates value in the region itself, and prevents appellation value from being outsourced to other states or countries. Our comments advocate for a more rigorous standard to be applied to appellation causal links, and for requiring that cannabis appellations should only be established for cannabis that is directly connected to the land by being planted in-ground and under the full sun.

  • Building appellations based on community organization and consensus - appellations can easily be derailed if the petitioning process becomes a staging ground for community division rather than organization and consensus. Our comments encourage CDFA to ensure a high level of community agreement is in place before appellation petitions can be submitted to the state.

  • Prioritizing collective and regional IP over private trademarks - the fundamental premise underlying California’s appellation and county-of-origin programs is that regional names belong to the farmers and people of that region, not to single individuals or companies. Our comments advocate to close loopholes that would allow conflicting trademarks to remain in use for up to three years after an appellation is established, ensuring that regions - not individual private companies - benefit from collective regional IP.


Over the coming weeks and months, CDFA will begin the process of reviewing public comments and considering whether and how to amend their proposed regulations. Depending on how they move forward, there may be additional public comment periods before the state’s appellation program is implemented and farmers can begin to submit petitions for California’s first cannabis appellations.


Coalition Letter to the Governor On Terroir-Based Appellations

Alongside its public comment on appellation regulations, HCGA submitted a broad-based coalition letter to the Governor’s Office highlighting the issue of terroir-based appellations and requesting that a terroir baseline be included in state law, as well as new City of Origin protections for city-based businesses.


The thirteen organizations who co-signed this letter comprise one of the broadest coalitions ever assembled for a cannabis policy issues to date in California. HCGA would like to recognize Origins Council for the multi-year effort in helping build this historic coalition. Signatories to the letter included the regional organizations representing legacy cannabis businesses in Mendocino, Trinity, Sonoma, and Nevada counties, as well as the Big Sur Farmers Association, Origins Council, Cannabis Distribution Association, International Cannabis Farmers Association, California Cannabis Industry Association, United Cannabis Business Alliance, Cannabis Business Association of Sonoma County, and California NORML.


Click here to read HCGA’s full coalition letter to the Governor on terroir-based appellations and City of Origin protections.


The letter underlines the fundamental importance of terroir-based appellations to the future of California’s cannabis industry, and advocates for a comprehensive system of regional protection that provides benefit for both rural and urban cultivators.


Proposed OCal “Comparable Organics” Regulations Released

As CDFA’s appellations public comment process winds down, another public comment period started up late last week for CDFA’s OCal Organics program.


The proposed regulations are available here, and public comment is open until July 7.


Because organics certification is regulated at the federal level, California cannabis businesses are prohibited from using the word “organics” or becoming organics certified. The OCal program is intended to compensate for this federal prohibition by creating a program that allows a comparable-to-organics certification to be developed on a state level.


Importantly, the proposed program doesn’t allow cannabis businesses to use the word “organic,” but it does allow farmers to apply for “OCal” certification and to use a state seal that marks cannabis products as similar to organic.


The OCal program is designed to be temporary, and to dissolve as soon as federal organics certification becomes available to cannabis businesses. One challenge in responding to these comments will be ensuring that the OCal program is useful, while also understanding that it will eventually dissolve and be replaced by federal organics certification.


The proposed regulations only deal with non-manufactured cannabis products, but separate regulations for manufactured products will be developed in a separate process by CDPH over the coming months.


Over the next week, HCGA staff will put together a more complete breakdown of the proposed OCal regulations and develop a plan to submit public comment to the state by the July 7 deadline.

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