Thursday, December 7, 2023

Cannabis Growers and Advocates Demand Answers from the County of Mendocino

[Stock image by Matt LaFever]

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.”

- Advertisement -

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.

- Advertisement -


  1. Mendocino county has a estimated 10 million dollar budget shortfall.
    They are going to pay someone to sort through 600 farms track and trace? They would need training to even understand how it works.
    METRC data includes a bunch of useless information that they will never understand. For example all weight harvested is entered in wet weight, cannabis is usually harvested and then dried, then all the sticks and leaves are cut off. These ratios of end product can vary widely from strain to strain farm to farm.
    METRC has no sales information at all.
    Where will this money come from?
    Another stupid idea that will drive this county farther into a home.

  2. An investigative reporter needs to do a deep dive into the core of rot at the center of this counties bureaucracy. We need better leadership. As constituents we must demand it. Cannabis is the canary in the coal mine alerting us to the far deeper problems creating this quagmire. Years to streamline the process? How many more will it take? How many more outside agencies must be hired to do the job they can’t? How much more money needs to be thrown at their ineptitude? The only vote I have for this BOS is one of no confidence. I applauded MCA for being the voice of cannabis in Mendocino County and doing everything they can to help it succeed.

  3. Interim Director Steve Dunnicliff hasn’t done anything except fired Matt Goines, who actually made all the recent positive changes. No one noticed, because it wasn’t announced, and wasn’t mentioned in this article. Interim Director Steve Dunnicliff, is interim director of 5 departments right now.

Join the Conversation

Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith is a radio and print reporter working in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, focusing on local politics and environmental news.

Today's News


News from the Week