7-4-20 Policy Update

MCA’s mission: The Mendocino Cannabis Alliance serves and promotes Mendocino
County’s world-renowned cannabis cultivators and businesses through sustainable economic
development, education and public policy initiatives.

July 4th, 2020

On June 10th the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors heard two agenda items regarding the future direction of the County’s cannabis program, which is currently closed to new applicants.

Chair Haschak offered the Recommendations of the Cultivation Ad Hoc Committee, Supervisor McCowen introduced an item to explore a Potential Re-direction of the Cannabis Cultivation Program.

MCA submitted two memos related to these agenda items. The first memo, submitted on June 7th, addressed a number of broader concerns.

1. Transitioning from Provisional to Annual State Licenses
Mendocino County has around 700 licensed cultivators who applied for or received their County-issued permit and have a state Provisional license without a project specific discretionary review process, which usually comes with an Administrative or Use Permit process.

Pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), in order to qualify for an annual state license, the California Department of Food and Agriculture requires some form of a site specific review of projects, either performed in a discretionary review process, or through a site specific environmental impact review.

CDFA is currently providing Provisional Licenses as a temporary solution to operators that have not yet undergone such discretionary or site specific review. State law mandates that Provisional Licenses will sunset by January 2022, meaning that Mendocino’s 700 Provisional Licensees will face the sunsetting of their license if the CDFA’s requirement for site/project specific review is not met in time.

2. Appendix G
Mendocino County has been working with CDFA to develop a checklist that would satisfy the site specific review requirement. Here is a link to the draft Appendix G Checklist still in development and must be finalized before being used by the County.

At the June 10th Board of Supervisors meeting, County Staff stated that they would be working with CDFA to test 2 local permit holders or applicants as a pilot, to see if they could successfully utilize the Appendix G checklist to satisfy the requirements for site specific review and in turn qualify for a State Annual License from CDFA.

In MCA and the County’s respective conversations with the agency, CDFA raised the concern that changes to the ordinance COULD impact the use of Appendix G, requiring either further modifications to it, or, if changes to the ordinance were more impactful, it could affect the ability to utilize Appendix G as a tool to conduct site specific reviews.

3. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)
An additional consideration is that the Mendocino County Cannabis Cultivation Ordinance requires that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) conduct a Sensitive Species Review (SSR) for cannabis cultivation sites in Mendocino County unless a County SSR program is approved by CDFW. Of the 700 licensees that require such a review, CDFW has conducted approximately 60 SSRs since the inception of the local permitting program in 2018. Nearly a year ago, in accordance with the existing ordinance, Mendocino County staff submitted a proposal to CDFW, requesting the agency’s authorization for the County to conduct SSRs, in an attempt to relieve the backlog of applicants not yet processed. After MCA wrote its memo pointing out that the backlog was jeopardizing the ability of applicants to receive annual permits in sufficient time to qualify for an annual state license, meetings were scheduled with CDFW and the County. We look forward to an update on the issue at the 6/21 BoS meeting.

On June 9th, MCA submitted an additional follow up memo, prompted by our research and conversations with local and State policy makers. This memo considers the challenging timeline to transition Provisional Licensees into Annual Licenses and recommends a multi-pronged approach to arriving at solutions.

MCA supports the County in exploring the above solutions with Appendix G and the resolution of the SSR backlog either through CDFW approval of the County program or modification of the ordinance to allow County biologists to conduct the SSRs without the need for CDFW review. In addition, MCA supports County staff researching the development of a new land use-based discretionary review process to both assist the Provisional, legacy cohort in securing their Annual State Licenses, as well as offering a pathway for new operators to obtain licenses.

One important consideration, whether adopting changes to the existing ordinance Chair Haschack is advocating, or switching to a land use-based system, is whether there is sufficient capacity to process all 700 Provisional licensees by the January 2022 deadline. We await County staff recommendations on July 21st regarding how to navigate this challenge.

In consideration of the above, MCA’s advocacy priorities are:

    1. Support Mendocino Provisional Licensees in qualifying for State Annual Licenses, prior to January 2022.
    2. Establish a local ordinance framework to re-open the local licensing pathway to legacy cultivation (sites that existed prior to Jan 1, 2016 – largely in Mendocino’s “resource lands” zoned TPZ (Timber Production Zones), FL (Forest Land) and RL (Range Land). This consideration is tied to the launch of the local Equity Program which will provide resources for licensing and environmental compliance.
    3. Whether through current ordinance refinement or through a new land use-based system, open the local program to new (non-legacy) cultivation licensees after Phase 1 and equity legacy applicants are processed.

The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors will convene around these issues on July 21st. MCA remains engaged with State and local policy makers to research and recommend solutions to these various challenges in order to support the sustainable economic development of Mendocino Cannabis. These concerns take on additional gravitas in the current pandemic and economic crisis, and finding solutions to these problems is urgent, with significant implications for the economic health of Mendocino County in these historic and challenging times.

For more information, please email info@mendocannabis.com

7.4.20_ MCA Local Policy Update

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