The county has received $150,732 in application fees for participation in its new cannabis regulatory program as of Jan. 14, with more appointments with prospective growers in the pipeline, according to officials at the newly formed division of cannabis control.
Commercial cannabis cultivation was legalized in October of 2019 for approximately 190 formerly registered growers who were in good standing with the county’s regulatory program under the 2016 Urgency Ordinance.
The revenues generated by registration fees cannot be allocated until four of five county supervisors vote to authorize a budget transfer. That has failed on 3-2 votes every time the issue has been before the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors, with dissenting votes from District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli and District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills.
The board did authorize a transfer of $197,991 from the General Fund in December, but that funding will offer only the minimal amount of support needed to keep the program running by June, when budget hearings for the new fiscal year begin, according to County Administrative Officer Al Alt.
The funding, nearly half of which came out of the County Counsel budget around the time former County Counsel Megan Stedtfeld resigned, is “intended to get us through June, but it is by no means what we need,” Alt said.
Alt said the budgeted positions in the new cannabis control office are all part-time, consisting of an interim program coordinator, an administrative assistant and a department analyst. The office is not yet equipped with computers, furniture and other equipment necessary to run the program, he added.
“We’re doing the best we can to move the program forward, and we’ll keep working through the challenges,” Alt said. “We’ll keep plugging away.”
As far as recruitment, Alt said the priority is filling the temporary administrative assistant position to help collect fees, manage deposits and issue receipts for permit fees, among other tasks. Former county employee Karen Osborn is coming out of retirement to fill the position for about six months, local officials confirmed at the office on Jan. 15.
Alt said the county will likely not issue 150 permits by the end of the year, given staffing constraints and the number of incomplete applications that have been received.
It’s been difficult to find temporary employees from within the county or on eligibility lists of previous applicants, and the county may end up having to open the positions, Alt added.
Of the 66 pre-applications the county has received to date, more than half were incomplete, had minor defects or needed additional documentation, and a few were fraudulent, according to Ethan Turner, the interim director of the department.
Those forms allow the department to determine whether the applicant participated in the Urgency Ordinance regulatory program and had a temporary state license, or whether they have purchased the right to apply from an eligible seller. Reviewing the form also determines whether the applicant has been served with a search warrant by the county sheriff, or an abatement warrant by Code Compliance, among other eligibility factors.
A few applicants submitted paperwork showcasing ownership of the right to apply from those that did not have proof of a temporary state license during the 2016 Urgency Ordinance.
Turner encourages applicants to ask for the registration certificate from someone attempting to sell them a right to apply, and to check on the California Department of Food and Agriculture website to see whether a temporary license had been issued before making the purchase.
Once pre-applications are verified, the county contacts applicants and makes appointments to meet with them, during which the county is to receive an application form and the application fee. Turner said six of those appointments were scheduled for this week, with several more anticipated throughout the coming weeks.
After fees are paid and an adequate premises map is submitted, the county issues a letter of conditional authorization, which signifies that an applicant has met the initial eligibility requirements. The county has issued 12 of those letters thus far.
Once that letter is received, prospective growers can begin the process of applying for a state license from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
Applicants then have to deal with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Water Resources Control Board, CDFA and potentially the Bureau of Cannabis Control before they can receive their state licenses.
The next phase involves review from every county land-use department.
“Planning will have to sign off on threshold eligibility; Code Compliance will verify former cultivation site remediation; the Building Department will ensure that the new proposed site complies with all applicable building and fire code requirements; Environmental Health will ensure that on-site wastewater requirements are satisfied and that the grower is enrolled in any applicable state regulatory programs that apply to their operations; Public Works will receive RIM fees for the new cultivation sites and will also be involved if grading permits, encroachment permits or storm water runoff issues are implicated in the cultivation plan,” according to Turner. “Additionally, the ag commissioner will ensure that every outdoor and mixed-light cultivator that is required to do so is enrolled in the state regulatory programs managed by his department.”
Turner recommends that applicants consult a lawyer before submitting an application to the county.
“Carefully reading the instructions and talking to a lawyer may take more time up front, but it will make the processing of an application much, much faster,” Turner said. “Do not rush to get your pre-application in; make sure it is correct. If you submit a defective or incomplete pre-application, it may take a week or two for us to tell you what’s wrong with it. If it is properly submitted, it’ll take us a few days to schedule you for an application appointment.”
A new office for the department of cannabis control is in Building A at the Government Center, 891 Mountain Ranch Road, San Andreas. It will be open to the public from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. until additional staff members have been brought onboard, Turner said.
For more information, call 754-6070 or visit cannabis.calaverasgov.us.