MCA County Cannabis Program Status Update

MCA County Cannabis Program Status Update

 

October 11, 2020

Mendocino County Cannabis Community

Re: MCA County Cannabis Program Status Update

 

In advance of the BoS meeting on October 13, 2020 focused on the County cannabis program, MCA has put together the following assessment of the current situation:

 

  • Enforcement without opportunity is a broken paradigm. As long as our local permits (and annual state licenses) are inaccessible to existing unlicensed farmers, our friends and neighbors have no opportunity to participate in the regulated cannabis

 

  • Sheriff Kendall has reiterated that none of the recent violent crimes have been associated with licensed farms. He agrees that there should be a path forward to bring more people into the regulated system. He also believes that current local and state regulations are far too onerous and

 

  • Cannabis is an agricultural crop, cultivation is an agricultural activity, and MENDOCINO CANNABIS CULTIVATORS ARE FARMERS. Until the local and state regulations reflect this reality accurately, our cannabis farmers will continue to struggle to participate in the regulated system.

 

  • Despite the challenges our licensed farmers continue to face, it looks like CANNABIS TAXES WILL BRING IN $5.8 MILLION THIS YEAR, AND HAVE CONSISTENTLY BEEN THE ONLY REVENUE SOURCE TO OUTPERFORM EXPECTATIONS. It is estimated that many of Mendocino’s existing cultivators are not yet licensed. When more of them can join the regulated industry, cannabis will become a truly thriving economic driver for our county. Cannabis has been deemed an essential business and if allowed to flourish, may be more insulated than other local industries that have been heavily impacted by the

 

  • The Board of Supervisors has voiced support for the priority of legacy cultivation from the beginning of this regulatory process, and have recently reaffirmed their commitment to Phase One applicants. Resolving the issues facing existing licensed operators must remain the first priority in all changes to the County’s cannabis

 

  • Licensed Cannabis Farms must adhere to strict environmental regulations. There are no environmental controls on unlicensed farms. The more existing farms that get licensed, the better the outcomes for our

 

 CLICK HERE to see MCA’s recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for the 10/13 meeting.

MCA Memo re: Agenda Item 6a

MCA Memo re: Agenda Item 6a

 

October 4, 2020

Mendocino County Board of Supervisors

Low Gap Road

Ukiah, CA 95482

 

Re: Agenda Item 6a

Discussion and Possible Action Including Direction to Staff Regarding Analyzing the Need for Increased Law Enforcement Support to Address Organized Crime (Sponsors: Supervisors Haschak and Williams)

 

Honorable Supervisors,

 

Mendocino Cannabis Alliance supports the agenda item. We appreciate the Sheriff’s focus on egregious acts of environmental degradation and violence. In the Sheriff’s last report to MCA regarding year-to-date law enforcement actions involving cannabis, he indicated that not one of the targets or actions involved a cultivation site in good standing with the Mendocino County Cannabis Program.

 

We request that the Sheriff and County Staff be asked to track data for crimes related to cannabis and to clearly specify whether they involved persons in good standing with the Cannabis Program or not.

 

Thank you for your consideration.

Mendocino Cannabis Alliance

MCA Memo re: Agenda Item 5g, Hemp Pilot Program

MCA Memo re: Agenda Item 5g, Hemp Pilot Program

October 4, 2020

Mendocino County Board of Supervisors

501 Low Gap Road

Ukiah, CA 95482

 

Re: Agenda Item 5g, Hemp Pilot Program-

 

Discussion and Possible Action Including Introduction and Waive First Reading of an Ordinance Adding Chapter 10A.18- Industrial Hemp Cultivation Pilot Program to the Mendocino County Code (Sponsors: Agriculture and County Counsel)

 

Honorable Supervisors,

 

Mendocino Cannabis Alliance appreciates the history regarding the Board direction on this item and in keeping with the spirit of that history, as well as current practical reasons, respectfully requests a re-scheduling of this agenda item.

The Board previously asked Staff to convene meetings to have stakeholder’s (Farm Bureau, MCA, and others) input prior to the development of a pilot program so that it was designed in a manner that addressed the specific technical issues concerning hemp and how a program could be designed to minimize the potential risk to existing cannabis permit holders and applicants.

After two meetings of the stakeholders, Staff prepared and brought forward the proposed ordinance for the pilot program as an agenda item on March 24, 20201. There were a number  of written public comments that were submitted, including by stakeholders, that outlined a variety of issues that were not addressed in the proposal that had come forward by Staff for the 3/24/20 Agenda Item.

While frameworks were discussed in the stakeholder meetings, no specific ordinance language was proposed, and the draft ‘Recommended Best Management Practices’ presented to the stakeholder group failed to address detailed regulations, critical to any hemp program, before it was presented to the Board on 3/24/20. The topics concerning specific regulations went to the core goal of ensuring that any pilot program minimized the impact to existing authorized cannabis sites.

In March, the matter was postponed. In the more than six months since that postponement, there has been no attempt to address those outstanding issues.2 Some of the issues include basic requirements like maximum size of hemp cultivation per site and the ability for the Department of Agriculture to adequately inspect for, and enforce violations of the prohibition of male pollen.n.

Specifically, at a minimum the following major discrepancies must be addressed prior to the adoption of any Hemp Pilot Program framework:

  1. There are no limitations placed on the scale/acreage of cultivation in the proposed ordinance. It is only stated that a property must be a minimum of 10 acres. Therefore it is feasible that a single pilot program licensee may be allowed to cultivate 100’s of acres of hemp. MCA previously recommended not more than 5 acres due to the extreme care with which crops must be inspected for male plants and branches. However, if the Ag Department does not have sufficient staff to adequately inspect that acreage on a weekly basis, then we would strongly recommend a much smaller limit. It is our understanding that additional factors pertaining to cultivation methods and testing capabilities would impact the Ag Department’s capability to closely monitor the program participants.
  2. Neither the frequency of Agriculture Department Inspections or the qualifications for inspectors have been addressed in the ordinance. MCA recommends that they should be codified in the ordinance. We do not agree that these can be adequately addressed in the promulgation of Agriculture Department regulations (10A.18.070) and are very concerned that the program will ultimately rely on self-inspection by the licensee rather than by qualified Department of Agriculture
  3. MCA maintains that there is not a safe practicable buffer distance between a hemp producer and a licensed cannabis farm in Mendocino County due to our topography, limited flat land areas, and the location of licensed cannabis farms existing throughout Mendocino County. The current proposed ordinance includes no specific buffer distance requirements at
  4. Organic cultivation methods are not required by the proposed
  5. Loss of crop value on cannabis farms due to hemp farming practices that cause pollen or pesticide/contaminant drift and/or leaching has not been
  6. Quality/contamination testing standards are not required by the proposed ordinance. At the very least we recommend that hemp produced in the county be required to undergo the same testing standards as cannabis, therefore limiting the potential for cannabis crop.

(See MCA’s 3/24/2020 memo for our detailed concerns about the items listed above, as well as our specific proposal to create a rebuttable presumption of causality that creates a private cause of action between a hemp and cannabis producer in the event of cannabis crop loss.)

Given the critical need to resolve program details that directly impact whether a hemp could be responsibly cultivated without creating crop loss for existing, authorized cannabis cultivators, and also given that the pilot program as proposed, while weak on significant details and protections, would require careful oversight of the program participants (once per week inspections) to help ensure against causing cannabis crop loss, and given the County is still in the midst of grappling with program administration and oversight of the Cannabis Program, and because the moratorium on hemp does not expire until February of 2021, we respectfully request that this item be further continued to December of this year and that Staff be directed to reconvene the stakeholder group to more thoroughly flush out the outstanding concerns.

 

Thank you for your consideration.

Mendocino Cannabis Alliance

 

 

1 The current version of the proposed ordinance was changed slightly in this “redline” version, but none of the changes related to outstanding program issues.

2 Ag Commissioner Donnelly did reach out to MCA at the end of last week and scheduled a call for today, Monday. October 5, 2020, regarding questions he had about MCA’s public comment from last March and spent a considerable amount of time on the phone with MCA representatives.

MCA Memo re: Item 6b

MCA Memo re: Item 6b

 

September 19, 2020

Mendocino County Board of Supervisors

501 Low Gap Road

Ukiah, CA 95482

 

Re: Agenda Item 6B) Discussion and Possible Action Including Direction to Staff on Cannabis Cultivation Permitting Priorities Including, but Not Limited to: County Counsel Analysis of State CEQA request, Digital Portal, Cost Recovery for Work Outside of Application Scope, Interagency Biologist Agreement, Publication of Cannabis Cultivation Guide, Plan for Staffing Increase or Consultant Request for Proposal (RFP), Equity Grant Program Update, Notices to Correct Applications, Request Provisional License Extension from California Department of Food and Agriculture, and Schedule Special Board of Supervisors Meeting for Cannabis Cultivation Phase 3 Zoning Table and Permitting Model (Sponsor: Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee (Supervisors Haschak and Williams)

 


 

Honorable Supervisors,

We would like to thank you all for your continued efforts to resolve the existential issues facing our county’s licensed cannabis farmers. We are especially grateful to the Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee members for their relentless exploration of the issues and for the comprehensive set of recommended actions being presented today. MCA is strongly aligned with this approach. We respectfully encourage all Supervisors to vote in favor of all recommended actions and to consider refining them as per our comments and questions outlined here in our memo.

First, before we address each specific recommended action, it is important to highlight that many of the issues we face, which these proposed recommended actions seek to address, all stem from one fundamental problem:

 

Cannabis cultivation is an agricultural land use and it should be regulated as such.

 

Mendocino County is a community rooted in cannabis agriculture that co-exists alongside our vineyards, orchards and farms. With our increasingly localized food system, generations of herbal medicine makers, and culture of innovative land steward entrepreneurs, we are poised to demonstrate to the world that our region’s cannabis crops yield unique products of place, rooted in our land and the culture of our farming community. Until our cultivators are recognized and treated as the farmers that they truly are, our whole County will continue to suffer under an oppressive regulatory system that considers cannabis to be a manufactured product, rather than an agricultural crop. It is this fundamental mischaracterization of cannabis cultivation land use that in turn causes most of the problems we have been wrestling with as a County since our permitting program launched in 2017.

 

We strongly encourage the Board of Supervisors to take up this cause and lead the charge with other rural legacy producing regions and advocate for changes to state law that would accurately redefine cannabis as an agricultural crop.

 

  1. Appendix G:
    • We support this exploration into whether the Appendix G as currently required by the State is a lawful burden to place on the
    • We request that the 30-day deadline for county counsel to report back to the Board of Supervisors be a hard deadline and the absolute maximum time allowed. Any extension of this timeline will continue to exacerbate the problem we face.
    • Any exploration of this issue must include an analysis of the logistical, financial and regulatory IMPACT on the current applicants and permit holders given the commitment the County has already made to get them over the finish line and given the years of taxes the County has collected and hopes to collect from regulated cultivators into the
  2. Digital Portal:
    • We support the development of a digital portal for submission of documents and application status
    • We strongly recommend that explicit direction be given to decouple the digitizing of existing files from the development of a portal for document submission. It is urgent that documents be digitized so that assessment of completeness and notice of corrections can be issued as soon as possible. This should not be delayed by the time needed to identify and implement portal
    • We request that MCA be consulted as part of this process. Our leadership has extensive experience with the County’s ordinance requirements, file management process, and CDFA’s digital application portal. The County has had numerous attempts at “cleaning-up” the application system. It continues to fall short of efficient processes because new ideas are not vetted with industry
    • Applicants should be encouraged to re-submit their files and supporting documentation (in a digitized form or on a thumb drive) AFTER a complete and list of essential forms and documents for the entire process, accurately matched to the ordinance, SSHR and potential Appendix G requirements is compiled and disseminated.
  3. Cost Recovery:
    • An accurate evaluation of whether costs are duplicative or specifically tied to actual requirements of the ordinance, SSHR, or Appendix G process is
  4. Interagency Biologist:
    • We support the securing of an onsite biologist through CDFW in order to expedite Sensitive Species and Habitat Reviews. However, we believe this should be a temporary stopgap measure while the County continues to explore whether or not it is possible to remove reference to CDFW from the ordinance section regarding the SSHR, and to conduct the SSHR by using any qualified biologist. (See MCA Memo from 6/9/2020 on Agenda Items 6A/6B.)
  5. Cannabis Cultivation Guide:
    • We generally support the creation of appropriate guides which provide consistent explanations and reference materials to help applicants and permittees through various stages of the
    • We request that time and resources be focused on producing reference guides for SSHR, Appendix G (if applicable), implications of site development or other processes that have a direct impact on CEQA compliance and, ultimately, CDFA annual license eligibility. A flow chart explaining what applicants should or should not do to make it through that process would be extremely helpful. It is imperative that the information and guidance provided be accurate and not based on expanded
    • This guide should be focused on the permitting process and not on cultivation practices.
  6. Staffing:
    • We support the concept of a 6-month application processing timeline and the outsourcing of this effort to a third party if the County canno
    • However, we request that the Scope of Work be defined after we have fully evaluated the need for Appendix G. If the scope is to include the SSHRs, Appendix G, and the processing of cultivation applications, we have concerns that it will be difficult to find a single consultant that is reasonably priced and has the correct expertise to navigate these components in a timely manner.
  7. Equity Grant Program:
    • We support the recommended direction to Staff to provide a presentation as soon as possible. Given that the Requests for Proposal were posted on August 25th, 2020 and due on September 24th, 2020 and the Equity Program is set to launch on November 1st, 2020 it is important that not only the Board of Supervisors, but potential applicants also be informed of the program’s development
    • We request that a specific date for the presentation be determined as part of the recommended
  8. Notice to Correct:
    • We support the concept of providing Notices to Correct to permittees/applicants provided they are given sufficient time to respond and County Staff has sufficient resources to receive and keep track of documents and information
    • We request that a minimum of 30 days be given to respond to any Notice to Correct, with extensions of time due to outside agency processes, Covid or Fire delays, or lack of available professional assistance..
    • We also request that Notice to Correct be processed/sent in batches to keep the workload manageable for both County Staff and various consultants and professionals.
    • Permittees should be prioritized first, in order of application, followed by pending applicants in order of
  9. Provisional Extensions:
    • We support pursuing all possible avenues to achieve a State extension of the Provisional to Annual license window beyond 12/31/21.
  10. Phase 3 Zoning:
    • We support the proposed direction to schedule a special meeting to discuss Phase 3 Zoning and appreciate the attention that this would give to such a complex and consequential

 

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of our requests and recommendations.

Respectfully,

Mendocino Cannabis Alliance

MCA Memo Re: Agenda Item 4o and 4r

MCA Memo Re: Agenda Item 4o and 4r

 

August 18, 2020

Mendocino County Board of Supervisors

501 Low Gap Road

Ukiah, CA 95482

 

Re: agenda Items 4o and 4r – Fire District Ordinances

 

Honorable Supervisors,

MCA supports all acts that reinforce fire safety and we certainly appreciate the efforts of the local fire districts to keep our communities safe. At first glance, the requested approval of the fire ordinances on the Consent Calendar makes sense. However, we believe that a more careful reading and consideration of the ordinances might be warranted.

We request refinements of several sections be recommended by the Board.

Specifically, the proposed amendments to Section 105.61, requiring Additional Operational Permits (on page 5 of each of the ordinances in Agenda items 4o and 4r) is proposed for ALL cultivation. We believe that there should be a distinction between operations that utilize electrical equipment and those that do not. We already have building permit review for fire safety, including adherence to building and fire codes and regulations and we have CalFire clearance to ensure fire safety rules are being adhered to. Yet another permit for activity that might not create a special hazard, especially when there are safety protections built into the review process for any structures that might be involved, seems unnecessary and duplicative. Refining the list of operations that might need an Additional Operational Permit could prevent unnecessary duplication without compromising safety.

Additionally, both Fire District ordinances propose a change in use classification (page 8 RVCFD, page 7 HFPD) that would classify all “Agricultural crop production, including cultivation, drying, processing and/or storing” as F1 moderate hazard uses. This appears to be more stringent than the County’s policy of allowing things like dry sheds to be Ag Exempt and not F1 if there are no workers or members of the public. To require F1 structures without exemptions would put applicants back to where we started before the Board encouraged the Building Official to expand the use of less onerous, but still safe occupancy use classifications, such as Ag Exempt, when possible. Again, the fire safety of all structures with building permits is examined during the building permit application process. To disallow the use of Ag Exempt building permits for dry sheds in these districts after applicants had gone through the process to get those types of building permits, would thwart the progress in streamlining that has been made.

 

Thank you for your consideration.

Mendocino Cannabis Alliance

 

MCA Memo Re: Agenda Item 4ae

MCA Memo Re: Agenda Item 4ae

August 16, 2020

Mendocino County Board of Supervisors

501 Low Gap Road

Ukiah, CA 95482

 

Re: agenda Item 4ae – DEA Grant Funding for Illegal Cannabis Enforcement

 

Honorable Supervisors,

MCA continues to be on record as supporting enforcement on public lands and for egregious environmental violations. We also continue to register concern about militarized enforcement and to restate the reality that enforcement without the opportunity to apply for and participate in the permit program is a broken paradigm.

Federal Prohibition is a vast failure on all levels of society and it is important that local government and law enforcement keep in mind that monies for enforcement are a bandaid for a gunshot wound. Until legalization occurs at the federal level, our county will continue to encounter trespass and public lands cultivation sites.

The permitting program has been complicated and expensive, with many changes to the procedures and requirements, as well as multiple changes to the program’s management, inspectors, and administrative staff. Many farmers find themselves in limbo with the county and state, uncertain whether the program they signed up for will ultimately allow them to continue their legal operation beyond next year. Currently, it is unclear what they should be doing to  meet all of the requirements of the many agencies with oversight of different aspects of the legal cannabis industry. Given this reality, it is crucial to remember that the majority of state licensed operators have only provisional licenses, and the majority of legal county operators only have embossed application receipts at this time. Most of these people have been trying their best to comply and to navigate the constantly changing landscape, and we ask that the county acknowledge that full compliance with all requirements of all agencies is practically impossible for most operators at this time.

Additionally, our county was only recently awarded equity grant funding intended to benefit those legacy operators most impacted by the war on drugs, many of whom have been locked out of the permitted cultivation program due to financial hardship, etc. Until this program opens, and permitted cultivation is actually a possibility for these folks, enforcement on these members of our community should not take place.

In closing, for all of the reasons stated above, MCA continues to stand by our position that enforcement priorities should be focused on public lands and egregious environmental violations only. We also request that the official narrative recognize that far more than the 275 annual permit holders that are referenced in the Grant application are in good standing with the County.

 

Thank you for your consideration.

Mendocino Cannabis Alliance