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Small Craft Pot Farmers Excited For Regional Cannabis Appellations

MENDOCINO COUNTY (KPIX) -- These days, wine drinkers might take for granted that a bottle of wine with the word "Napa" on it actually comes from grapes grown in Napa Valley.

That labeling is now codified in California law, just like a wine labeled "Bordeaux" must come from one of the 54 wine appellations in Bordeaux wine region of France.  In the coming years, California's other famous crop is going to get some designated appellations of its own.

Moon Gazer Farms in Mendocino County
Moon Gazer Farms in Mendocino County (CBS)

The state's small cannabis farmers are absolutely thrilled about the plan.

"Every zone has its different micro climates," said Josh, a cannabis farmer in Mendocino County. "The sun really just hits us in the summertime here."

With the help of that intense Mendocino sun, he and his partner Sandra grow a little bit of everything at Moon Gazer Farms.

"Supposed to be a butternut, but I don't know," Sandra wondered aloud, examining a massive squash sitting amid the marijuana plants. More importantly, they grow all of their marijuana in a fashion that is well beyond sustainable.

Josh and Sandra have actually won awards for their regenerative cannabis farming, giving back to the land, using minimal water and building healthy soil. All of it adds up to a world class product. In the coming years, California is going to give cannabis like this a label that tells its story: how it was grown and where it comes from.

"That's why grapes are known for their appellation," Josh explained. "They have the 'terroir.' It's literally the soil, the ground, the earth."

So as the nearby wine country would produce a Cabernet, grown by a specific vineyard in the Alexander Valley Region of Sonoma County, Sandra and Josh would give us a cannabis flower with a similar distinction: a Red Rosebud, grown by Moon Gazer Farms, in the Redwood Valley Appellation of Mendocino County.

The idea is to showcase and promote this already highly renowned product of the state's famed "Emerald Triangle."

"Well it is. It is renowned around the world. So the lift in that respect is easy" said Genine Coleman of the Mendocino Appellations Project.

She has developed her own vision for a map of the county's specific cannabis growing regions.

"It's a really incredible way to tell our story," said Coleman. "And also protect our legacy moving forward into the brave new world of regulation and commodification."

Pot appellations regional map
Pot appellations regional map (CBS)

A process for designating these cannabis appellations was actually written into state law back in 2016. It is supposed to be completed by 2021. The state is now holding forums, getting input as to what the official California cannabis appellation map might look like. There would also be a set of standards and practices required to earn the label. Small, craft growers are hoping that type of distinction can help preserve their trade in the years ahead.

"It's a way that we can protect our heritage our tradition and our scale," said Coleman. "There's a certain love to plant ratio that's possible with craft cannabis."

There has been no shortage of doom and gloom during the first eight and a half months of legalized cannabis in California, but the cannabis appellation project is something positive. It will give what growers see as an opportunity to turn this region's legacy and reputation into a valuable selling point that can, hopefully, make legalization work on the small scale.

"We're fighting," Sandra said of the small marijuana farmers' struggles. "All of us here are like fighting with all of our souls to make sure that we can keep this craft."

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