Cannabis growers and advocates expressed a mixture of appreciation and frustration at yesterday’s General Government standing committee meeting. While processes at the cannabis department appear to have improved greatly under the leadership of Senior Program Manager Sara McBurney and Interim Director Steve Dunnicliff, growers still complain of bureaucratic quagmires and unanswered questions.
A brief window from November 13-17 will open for some applicants to the equity grant program, in hopes of distributing funding to people who did not apply because of incorrect information previously provided by the department.
About 120 people applied for the equity grant under the eligibility criterion of having been within five miles of a CAMP raid. The department is not currently able to move ahead with those applications. A staff memo says the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, or GO-Biz, has asked for more information about the county’s eligibility requirements, including that one.
McBurney provided details about the application window that will open next month, and who’s eligible to apply. “It’s for folks who did not apply previously during our open eligibility window due to incorrect information given at a public meeting by the department,” she said. “The actual criterion is an individual who has obtained or applied for a cannabis permit in Mendocino County or who has currently worked in the cannabis industry and was arrested and/or convicted of a nonviolent cannabis-related offense but did not apply using this criterion during the previous submission period. The department believes that folks may have met that eligibility but perhaps applied for the CAMP radius as well, because maybe they qualified for both, and so now folks who fell under this CAMP radius criterion and are unable to move forward, we would like to make sure that they’re allowed to apply during this 13-17th window as well.”
She confirmed that everyone who applied using the five-mile radius qualification can re-apply if they think they qualify under the newly clarified provision. And she told the committee that more of the equity grant money is available directly to applicants. In August, the department’s monthly update reflected that $910,000 was available in direct grant funding. Working with GO-Biz, they were able to shift $239,000 of that from direct technical assistance, which tends to revolve around soft skills like education and capacity building, to direct grants to get projects going. McBurney was careful to distinguish the equity grant from another opportunity, the Local Jurisdiction Assistance Grant Program, or LJAGP. “There will be an element of the equity piece to the Local Jurisdiction Assistance Grant Program, but that queue will be different,” she explained. When the application window opens, the department will accept applications to the separate grant. The manual currently recommends that the $4.8 million be disbursed to individual grantees at $25,000 apiece.
There is still fallout from the previous cannabis administration’s attempts to move applicants through the permitting process. Phase I applicant Rick Fultz said he is still experiencing repercussions from another failed attempt to organize applications. He told the committee that the DCC, or state Department of Cannabis Control, had sent him a letter of abandonment for his application. “The ironic part about this is, I was deprioritized last year for not having an application with the state,” he said. “I did have the application with the state. I was deprioritized, and now the state is getting ready to abandon my application for not being able to move through the process with the county.”
When it came to streamlining the ordinance, Mulheren said she doesn’t think it will happen in a hurry. “First of all, I don’t think we’re done with the ordinance,” she said. “I think we’re probably years off, just to be very frank with you. I think this is the next step, to streamline, to improve the process, but I don’t know, and I would just caution the Board, we’re not done.”
Cannabis consultant Chantal Simonpietri urged the board to get more involved with the minutiae, laying out an example of a cascade of errors that resulted from a requirement by California Department of Fish and Wildlife that’s based on inaccurate information about setbacks. Michael Katz, the Executive Director of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, thinks the county should spend less time looking out for CDFW. “These items that we’re talking about on the site plan, they’re not for us to do,” he opined. “It’s extra work internally for the planners to have to review that, (and) for the people who have to submit it. We don’t have to be in the business of helping other agencies do their work.”
Cannabis attorney Hannah Nelson backed him up, saying, “Making complicated things based on processes that keep changing, and staff that keep changing, and some that are not qualified to actually understand what they’re looking for, based on mismatched criteria, as we know from the CDFW Exhibit A, et cetera, is a mistake.”
Mulheren pushed back against numerous objections to using track and trace to gather data about cannabis for the crop report. “When it is time for a crop report, or for other data and information that the county needs to use to support the industry for all kinds of things, including budgeting within the county, applying for grants, et cetera, I think that having accurate information is critical to the needs of the cannabis community,” she said. “I appreciate MCA’s involvement in trying to get data. We were unsuccessful with that. And I don’t want to just throw darts in the air to put a number out. I want to have real information so our community understands what cannabis cultivation provides to our economy. It’s important.”
The General Government committee will meet again in December.