Cannabis consumption was legalized once the clock struck midnight on Sunday, but for the two dozen or so farmers who were issued permits to operate in the state’s commercial cannabis program, uncertainty remains in Calaveras County.
As of Jan. 2, the day after the state program was implemented, 18 Calaveras cannabis growers were issued licenses to farm by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the agency charged with issuing permits to farmers, meaning they can interact with others legally registered in the program.
“That’s the Holy Grail,” said Prapanna Smith, a registered Calaveras grower. “It is perfectly legal under the (current laws) to go for it.”
Indeed, the 200 or so farmers in good standing with the county’s cannabis urgency ordinance approved nearly two years ago can obtain state licenses under the rules, yet those licenses can be revoked if the county passes policy that downsizes or prohibits the industry, said Alex Traverso, chief of communications with the Bureau of Cannabis Control.
On Jan. 10, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors will consider an ordinance that could reduce the industry to only large parcels on specifically zoned outdoor and indoor operations or ban it altogether. If county supervisors do not defer from intentions they affirmed during a number of meetings in December and decide to downsize the marijuana industry, licensed cultivators could have until May before their licenses expire under whatever the new rules may be, said Smith.
The estimation was based on a 30-day period for the new local laws to take effect, then another 90-days by which farmers would have to comply with whatever regulations are approved, he added. By then, Traverso says the licenses that were temporary while the state sifts through processes to craft rules, could expire for the few who obtained licenses by the new year.
In that time, marijuana cultivators who happen to comply with the adopted regulations could apply simultaneously with the county and the state in hopes they could transition into the new program and continue to operate legally, Smith said.
Meanwhile, others in the community see the state regulations as a burden. Bill McManus, an activist who has worked toward a ban over the past few years, said the state has proven it would stretch regulations beyond the breaking point to cash a check.
“Track and trace is not ready,” McManus said. “That was the basis for a lot of these operations being handled in a way to give people confidence we know what is going on. Two to three years from now was the update I received from the Bureau of Cannabis Control.”
Though legal, it does not mean business has been plentiful for all just days into the state’s new program. Smith, an indoor farmer who aspires to continuing to operate under a new regulatory system, said much of his energy lately has been focused on creating packaging, a requirement to sell product to licensed dispensaries, and other branding materials.
“It’s expensive,” he said. “It is the equipment, the printing. It adds up in the tens of thousands of dollars. We’ve had to hire people to do that for us. It’s part of getting out in front” of regulations.
Other farmers have to find a way to survive when the system appears situated to force them out of growing the plants. Smith said many growers on outdoor residential properties have begun looking into making moves to larger lots where they would be able to continue production.
“Some have already made arrangements,” said Smith. “We could see a massive movement.”
While farmers remain on the fence, dispensary owners have more clarity. Per a permanent dispensary ordinance updated by the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors in 2005, the three operating in the county can obtain licenses from the state without fear of future policy changes.
As of Jan. 1, the Bureau of Cannabis Control, which authorizes retailers, distributors and microbusinesses to operate legally in the state, issued over 400 licenses from Lake Shasta to San Diego, according to a news release from the agency.
Among those who have obtained licenses from the state is San Andreas-based Green Gold Cultivators, Director Tom Calmese confirmed Tuesday. He heard he was in before the end of December, he added.
Others, like Calaveras Little Trees in Arnold and Blue Mountain Collective in San Andreas, could not confirm the status of their licenses. Representatives could not be reached for comment for each organization.
Some subtle changes have rocked medical retailers this far into the program. Calmese said taxes have jumped 15 percent to 30 percent on purchases. Also different are purchases. Gone are the days when dispensaries could buy product in bulk. All products have to be prepackaged, prefilled, childproof and have testing numbers on packaging.
All products will remain available to medicinal consumers exclusively, but the state does allow medical dispensaries to double up and provide product to adult users if local laws allow, Calmese said. Calaveras currently does not.
“As of right now, it is not possible,” said Calmese. “But it’s something that can change.”