David Frankel: “I Walk the Line,” a message for Nevada County cannabis businesses

Nevada County cannabis people are used to “Walking the Line” – like the Johnny Cash song:  

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

Especially the part about keeping your eyes wide open all the time.  We are used to being under threat of petty acts of retribution, retaliation and robbery. California’s War on Cannabis has officially ended in our favor with the passage of Prop. 64.  Yet, Nevada County cannabis people are not quite out of the woods.

The County started the process of creating a commercial cannabis ordinance that would enable some Nevada County cannabis businesses to apply for state licenses.  The process has been far from perfect and it is unclear whether and to what extent Nevada County’s Planning Department and Supervisors will follow the voters’ intentions.  In a stated attempt to take it slow and address the concerns of all stakeholders, the County put Nevada County cannabis businesses at a severe disadvantage compared to those in other similarly situated counties that have adopted local ordinances in time for 2018 state licensing such as Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Sonoma, Trinity and Yolo.  

Nevada County cannabis people must continue to walk the line between being documented enough to take advantage of impending state licensing programs and being below the radar of those who would commence enforcement or robbery.  Recently, there have been some disturbing trends.

First, Nevada County growers were encouraged to enroll with the Regional Water Board Cannabis Program, which requires disclosure of the grow site and its operator, setbacks, and some environmental studies.  They incurred substantial costs and exposed themselves to the light of day, so to speak.  For this, every single one of them was rewarded with an inspection and abatement from the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office which uses anonymous and/or self-generated complaints to justify abatements.  Lesson learned.

Then, there was an armed home invasion robbery by some people who were pretending to be cops calling themselves the “Nevada City Drug Task Force.”    To add insult to injury, the Nevada County Sheriff took the report from the victims of the home invasion robbery and referred it to the District Attorney for possible prosecution as a commercial cannabis operation.  Lesson learned.

There are hundreds of Nevada County cannabis businesses actively working to become compliant to seek licenses when the County ordinance is finally adopted.  Many of these people would like to be part of the process so that their voices can be heard but are afraid to reveal themselves, with good reason.  

Imagine involving the people with the most experience in the field of commercial cannabis in the process of creating the ordinance under which they will be governed?  That seems too good to be true because of a legitimate fear that people will be raided, robbed, abated and/or prosecuted as a result of speaking their views publicly.

To those folks, we say “There is a way.”  Our law office is able to meet with clients, take their comments and input to the County and put it in a letter to the Supervisors and Planning Department that keeps the client’s identity strictly confidential.  That way, our clients are able to provide real world input to the proposed cannabis ordinance without risking themselves.

For example, constructive comments to the process could include:  

  • Reasons to include microbusinesses and nurseries
  • Reasons to include distributors, testing labs, and manufacturers
  • Reasons to include brick and mortar dispensaries and delivery services
  • Reasons to include the larger cultivation operations (10,000 sq. ft. and greater)
  • Reasons to include processors
  • Reasons to not require a residence on large parcels zoned for Agriculture or Timber
  • Reasons to allow outdoor cultivation on large parcels zoned for Residential Agriculture

As they walk the line pending the adoption of a Nevada County ordinance, here’s what local cannabis businesses can do now:

  • Check the zoning and setbacks of any property being considered for licensed operations
  • Prepare a property and/or premises site plan, drawn to scale, that shows all the areas that need to be noted under the state regulations (cultivation area, processing and storage areas, waste area, well, streams, setbacks, etc.)
  • Engage one of the Water Board consultants that we work with to do an environmental review of any property that is eligible for licensed operations so that the property can be evaluated prior to next Spring’s mad rush for Nevada County and state licenses
  • Confirm the legality of all water sources, obtain well permits, diversion and stream bed alteration documents as appropriate
  • Set aside funds and time for preparing all the necessary documentation that will go into a license application

California cannabis collectives will enjoy one more year of use before they sunset in January 2019.  Keep all collective paperwork up to date and, if applicable, obtain any required Seller’s Permits related to your cannabis operations.    

As the Man In Black would say, keep a close watch and your eyes wide open all the time.

*By David Frankel, Senior Counsel, Greenspoon Marder LLP, Nevada City

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