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Application reviews stalled for majority of cannabis cultivators

A slide from a presentation, showing numbers in columns
Mendocino County Cannabis Department
Mendocino County Cannabis Department
A slide from last week's public Cannabis Department meeting, showing the numbers of growers who have been deprioritized.

Cannabis cultivators are concerned that halting review of their application materials could delay full licensure with the state.

November 1 , 2022 — Cannabis growers are frustrated with the latest delay in processing the paperwork they need to renew their annual county permits, which they fear could lead to missing deadlines for full state licensure. Many growers continue to operate under provisional licenses or even embossed receipts, as they work to come into compliance with state and county regulations.

The majority of growers in the county, 590 out of 863, have been “deprioritized,” meaning their materials will not be reviewed until they “satisfy the conditions needed to reprioritize their applications,” according to the Mendocino Cannabis Department.

At last week’s public Cannabis Department meeting, Director Kristin Nevedal said she had sent out the notices to people who are either delinquent on tax payments or who do not have a valid state license on record with the county. She said her department has made multiple attempts to get a record of the state licenses since the Department of Cannabis Control stopped sending updates to local jurisdictions. Multiple requests and exhaustive searches have not yielded the information they needed about the licenses. Staff has searched and cross-checked what information they do have through portals and databases.

“We have no way, just like the public has no way, to type an address or an APN (Assessor Parcel Number) into the state license search, and find a license,” she explained.

Mendocino Cannabis Alliance Executive Director Michael Katz said there was a simpler way to get the information.

“It sounded like there was a lot of time spent into this process, looking for the state license information, and that despite multiple outreaches and multiple efforts, that there was no way for the department to get this information, which is really curious,” he said. “Because I just forwarded to you and the cannabis program an email from the DCC (Department of Cannabis Control) that was received on October 26 within three hours of being asked for, that included a list of all licensees in the state by county, APN number, address information. And so if this is a piece of information that can be gathered within three hours by anyone emailing the DCC, I’m wondering why the cannabis department isn’t able to access that information. As far as streamlining goes, how come the easiest path has not been identified, and all of this time, effort and energy went into this very complicated process that has really now challenged further the applicants and the department?”

Brandy Moulton restated the question, which Nevedal answered succinctly.

“Saying that you couldn’t get it from the DCC, it feels kind of like a copout,” Moulton opined. “The PRA (Public Records Act request) can be simply one sentence long. I’d be happy to draft that for you. It could even include active, expired and pending licenses. I do know the MCA (Mendocino Cannabis Alliance) pulled this list years ago when the fires were happening years back to get cultivators access to their properties, so it’s not new. So given your comments about staff time and the difficulties you guys are facing, does the department intend to request that info now to alleviate the burden on staff, and if not, why?”

“The department does not currently have a plan to PRA the DCC for license material because we hadn’t considered it until today,” Nevedal replied.

Many of the recipients of the notice do have licenses. Katz said more than half of them also have receipts for taxes paid. Nevedal maintained that the lack of a license was often only one reason applications were not currently under review, and that sending out notices was the most efficient way to obtain the materials she needs.

“No license on file, meaning that we had nothing to search, triggered a deprioritization notice,” she reiterated. “And, again, most folks have multiple things going on: taxes, and licensing questions. We ran this as one program. Breaking it into two programs, here’s all of our license questions, we’re asking all these people license questions, and then going back to a second list of license questions for taxes alone, would have created twice as much communication with applicants from the department as coupling these pieces together into one notice process. It also would have meant licenses coming in in separate emails, and then a whole separate stream of tax documents coming in separate emails. Because again, I know a few of you are just having license issues or just having tax issues. But the vast majority of deprioritization notices went to folks who have both tax delinquencies and license issues. And there's no way to streamline the program by breaking it into two separate requests.”

Jude Thilman, president of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, said applicants were taken by surprise. The Alliance also sent out a survey, which netted 34 responses. All but two of the respondents reported that they have state licenses, most of them provisional.

“I’m very happy to hear your honest response to Brandy’s question, that you hadn’t considered PRA’s before,” said Thilman. “This is great. Now this is a tool that can really expedite.” She relayed a question from her membership, asking, “If people have been told to not send any updated information until a planner contacts them, how do they make sure that they are allowed to submit updated information, including their current license? In other words, they didn’t know about this, so how are they going to know about it if they have to wait for a planner to call?” She added that 98% of the respondents to the MCA survey reported that they do have active state licenses, “So it was just some verification that this was an inaccurate deprioritization action,” she concluded.

“That’s exciting news, that 98% of your members are licensed,” Nevedal replied. “We look forward to receiving their materials.”

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.