Yesterday afternoon, a panel consisting of Mendocino County officials and prominent members of the cannabis community met in a virtual town hall hosted by the Cannabis Business Association of Mendocino County to address questions from the public about the next steps in regulating the county’s legal cannabis industry, referred to as Phase III.
The virtual town hall was moderated byThe Mendocino Voice’s publisher Kate Maxwell. Participants included 5th District Supervisor Ted Williams, former 2nd district Supervisor John McCowen, recently hired Cannabis Program manager Kristin Nevedal, the Board Chair of Mendocino Cannabis Alliance Patrick Sellers, and attorney Joe Rogoway.
Sarah Bodnar, Policy Director of the Cannabis Business Association of Mendocino County, said the town hall’s goal was to create “a venue for discourse and a deeper understanding of the policy.
5th District Supervisor Ted Williams opened up the meeting, providing an overview of the county’s legalized cannabis program’s current policy shift towards moving away from “Phase I” towards “Phase III.” Williams characterized Phase I cannabis ordinances as “not working” and negatively “impacting neighborhoods.” He described over one thousand applicants in the queue waiting for their Phase I ordinance to be approved. He foresaw Phase III as the next step in Mendocino County’s legal cannabis market and described its requirements as more stringent than Phase I.”
Kristin Nevedal, Mendocino County’s newly hired Cannabis program manager, explained that Phase I’s permitting process was ministerial, meaning a permit is granted when the proposed project complies with established standards, a “box-checking exercise,” she called it. She said permits issued during Phase I did not require an environmental review nor California Environmental Quality Act (CEQUA) analysis.
In contrast, Phase III permits are discretionary. Nevedal explained that each project’s permitting will be determined on a case-by-case basis and require a complete CEQUA analysis plus a thorough review of the site’s impact on noise, air quality, aesthetics. Nevedal emphasized that any project that does not meet the requirements cannot be developed until the issues are addressed.
Former 2nd District Supervisor John McCowen and a key architect of Mendocino County’s Phase I Ordinance spoke to the public’s perception of cannabis cultivation: “What people fear is what we have now. For people who point to the unmitigated and unregulated impacts that we have all around us, that is not what we’ll have for Phase III.”
Supervisor Williams addressed questions regarding the Phase III ordinance aspect that has caused concern requiring that cultivators not exceed using I0% of their land to grow cannabis. Williams explained, “how much someone can cultivate should depend on the parcel, the neighborhood.” He described I0% as a “reasonable ceiling” but said that ceiling does not mean all permitted cultivators will grow on I0% of their land. Conditions that must be adhered to include limiting water hauling, plastic grow houses, light pollution, and generators.
Cannabis Attorney Joe Rogoway of Rogoway Law Group said what Mendocino County residents “are seeing is the lack of environmental regulations” intrinsic to the Phase I ordinance. He argued that Phase III’s environmental oversight will be more robust and discretionary, “meaning the county can say no” to cultivators if their sites are not up to code. He assured the community that before a cannabis plant could be germinated, “public hearings and neighborhood” buy-in will be sought.
Patrick Sellers, the Board Chair of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, expressed opposition to the Phase III ordinance because there was no path for existing, Phase I cultivators to transition to the market. Instead, Sellers said Phase III “provides a pathway for well-capitalized businesses leaving the existing Phase I operators in the dust.”
Supervisor Williams recognized the “angst over what is happening to small farmers” but questioned whether “rigging the outcome” in the battle between corporate and small farms was the government’s appropriate role. Williams said Mendocino County residents do not want to see problems associated with Phase I cultivation “scaled up,” including generators, light pollution, and environmental concerns.
Nevedal pointed out that “the verdict is still out from the state as to whether the provisional licenses will be continued.” Ultimately, she said that Phase III would present an “opportunity for farmers of all sizes.”
Nevedal addressed concerns that cannabis cultivation could be a strain on Mendocino County’s water: “If we move to a more heavily regulated program, we shouldn’t see the expansion of surface water draws.”
In terms of enforcement of the Phase III protocols, Nevedal said it would be essential to provide local law enforcement with a comprehensive list of the county’s regulated and permitted cannabis cultivators so law enforcement could use their resources wisely.
In addressing the enforcement issues, Supervisor Williams pointed towards Phase I cultivators deflecting enforcement by claiming they are waiting for the county’s approval. In light of the county’s enormous backlogs, Phase I cultivators can perpetually avoid oversight by law enforcement.
Supervisor Williams recognized issues with complaint-based enforcement saying, “some residents are fearful of complaining, [if] there is a project next door, out of scale, complete outlaws, they are worried they will be targeted.” He said that Phase III is not addressing this.