October 7, 2021 — The Board of Supervisors discussed applications for over $20 million in state-funded cannabis grants this week.
The $2.2 million dollar equity grant was awarded to the county last year by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.
The much larger Local Jurisdiction Assistance Grant Program was approved as part of this year’s state budget as a way to help local governments move cannabis businesses into the regulated market. Mendocino County was one of seventeen cities and counties eligible to apply for a certain amount, in this case just a little over $18 million.
But applicants to the smaller equity grant are frantic at the possibility that they won’t get their awards before the deadline in February. If the county doesn’t allocate the funds by then, the money will have to go back to the state.
Equity grant applicants must be able to demonstrate moderate income, which is just under $68k for a household of two, and that they suffered specific harms from the drug war. About fifty people have applied for awards, which cap out at $50k. Twenty three of about fifty applicants have been approved so far. Supervisor Glenn McGourty asked cannabis program manager Kristen Nevedal if she was still suggesting that recipients get all the money up front, before the proposed projects are completed. Nevedal said yes, because a lot of the proposed projects couldn’t be completed before the clock runs out on the grant. “Those are really generous terms,” McGourty noted. “I’ve never seen grants like that before in my life.”
Supervisors pondered eliminating the income threshold for the equity grant, or prioritizing various criteria. Though Nevedal said applicants typically use tax returns to prove their income, Supervisor Ted Williams said he wanted to make sure the awards were not going to anyone who had failed to file taxes.
Nursery owner Ron Edwards took issue with bringing taxes into the discussion, and he and Williams had an exchange during public comment. “That’s absolutely possible,” he said, when Williams asked him what it means when someone grows 10,000 square feet of cannabis and reports zero income. “You could get bad clones from someone and you don’t pass the certificate of analysis,” Edwards offered as an example. “Remember, cannabis is reviewed more than any other product that goes to market, so there are a lot more ways for this product to fail.” Communications on the part of the county as well as the grower community could use some improvement, he allowed, but “we are here addressing the equity grant issue, and I think that’s what the focus should be.”
The board agreed unanimously to prioritize applicants who are up to date on their taxes, with preference given to those who have already applied.
The county itself has until November 15 to apply for the $18 million grant to get its provisional permit holders over the line to their annual state licenses. Williams had a couple of gripes, and suggested that the county send a letter to the state, saying the state system doesn’t work for the county. “It’s like the state sent us a puzzle, and it’s missing half the pieces,” he analogized. “I know it’s an eighteenth century approach, but maybe we should pass a resolution, send it back to the state, and just be open about it. We tried. This program doesn’t work for our county. What do you want us to do?”
He also doesn’t think the money will go very far, with short-staffed county departments, the high cost of living, and expensive contractors, “if we could find one who would take this project. And you’ve got to wonder about anybody who thinks this is a good assignment. Eighteen million sounds like a lot. It’s not enough to get the job done...these are Band-aids.”
But Michael Katz, the director of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, sees the grant as a sign that the state is taking the plight of small growers seriously. “I would say this is a significant Band-aid,” he opined. “It’s more like triage...so the state is not throwing their hands up. They’re continuing to move this conversation forward and that’s what we need to do for this substantial component of this community. We don’t get to throw our hands up and walk away.”