September 2019


El Dorado County Opens for Cultivation Permits Up to Two Acres and All Other License Types (GO SIERRA NEVADAS!)

By: Heather Burke

The County of El Dorado recently enacted an ordinance authorizing all commercial cannabis license types, including cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, testing, and retail, which is super exciting for the Sierra Nevadas. This blog focuses on the process for cultivators, who can obtain up to two (2) acres of commercial cannabis permits, depending on their parcel size and zoning. Here’s the lowdown: 

CULTIVATION LICENSE SIZE/ZONING OVERVIEW

  • There are 150 total permits, 75 of which are reserved for outdoor and mixed light operations that are less than 10,000 sq ft of canopy.
  • 40 of the 75 smaller cultivation licenses are reserved for 3,000 sq ft gardens that is “grown exclusively with natural light and meets organic certification standards or the substantial equivalent.”
  • The zones in which cultivation may occur are (1) Rural Lands (“RL”), Planned Agricultural (“PA”), Limited Agricultural (“LA”) and Agricultural Grazing (“AG”).
    • RL properties are eligible to use up to 1.5% of their parcel for cultivation, but may not exceed 10,000 sq ft of canopy.
    • AG, LA, and PA properties between 10-15 acres are eligible to use up to 1.5% of their parcel for cultivation, but may not exceed .45 acres of canopy.
    • AG, LA, and PA properties between 15-25 acres are eligible to use up to 1.5% of their parcel for cultivation, but may not exceed 1.5 acres of canopy.
    • AG, LA and PA properties greater than 25 acres are eligible to use up to 5% of their parcel for cultivation, but may not exceed 2 acres of canopy.
  • The setback is 800 feet from the property line and 1500 feet from schools, which may knock out a bunch of properties. Folks can get around this setback in some instances if they owned or leased the property before November 1, 2018.
  • Parcels under 10 acres are not eligible for permitting.

APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS 

The application is a full Conditional Use Permit [“CUP”] process, meaning there will be a public hearing on the application. More about CUPs generally HERE. The main thing to know about CUPs is that they are “land use” determinations, which is great in that the permits will “run with the land,” thus increasing the value of the land. However, they are complex, time consuming, costly, and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis depending on the site particulars.

Secondly, El Dorado’s “pre-application” is not yet available, but is expected to be released on September 30. While the Code gives us some insight into what will be required, there are likely to be additional requirements standard in any CUP process, such as an NCIC letter or biological summary, that are not mentioned in the cannabis code. Here’s the rundown of the basic applications requirements:

  • Entity applicant information, including articles of organization/incorporation, operating agreement/bylaws, stock agreements, and “any other funding sources for the applicant.”
  • Written consent of the owner of the parcel (which may be you as an individual leasing the property to your LLC or corporation), which must be signed in wet ink and notarized within 30 days of the day the application is submitted.
  • A Site Plan showing the entire parcel, including (1) easements, (2) streams, springs, ponds, and other surface water features, (3) the area for cultivation in dimensions, (4) setbacks from property lines, (5) all areas of ground disturbance and surface water disturbance, and (6) any areas where cannabis will be stored, handled, or displayed.
  • A detailed diagram of the premises, including buildings, structures, fences, gates, parking, lighting and signage;
  • Various written plans, including (1) a Theft Prevention/Access to Minor Plan, (2) an Operating Plan, (3) an Organic Certification or Equivalent Plan, (4) a Security Plan;
  • For any hoophouses/greenhouses/proposed structures, all applicable building permit applications, which may include commercial plans that show ADA access
  • Most land use applications require an archaeological and biological inquiry. Expect that to be part of the application;
  • A copy of the entire state license application, which for some will be copies of multiple state license applications for different “small” licenses because the large (i.e. one acre+) licenses are not available from the state at this time. Each state license application includes the following, as well as a surety bond for each license type:
    • A Water Board permit;
    • A Waiver Letter or Lake & Streambed Alteration Agreement from the Dept of Fish and Wildlife (which can take months);
    • A Property and Premise Diagrams for each separate license;
    • A Well Completion Report from the Department of Water Resources;
    • The EIN/Seller’s Permit Info for the applicant entity;
    • A Lease/Rental Agreement and Landowner Authorization.

Notably, all applicants will have to indemnify the County, consent to a background check, and agree to inspections without a warrant, in addition to a host of other attestations/waivers/agreements.  

THE CALIFORNIA ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY ACT [CEQA]

The County has deferred the required environmental impact analysis to the farmer, which is a huge cost, but will likely allow them to get up and running far sooner than if the County had performed a full Environmental Impact Report.

If someone does not have a CEQA consultant already on retainer, be prepared for a shocking price tag. One can usually expect the CEQA consultants to get overburdened and for projects to get put on a wait list if not at the front of the line. Additionally, both the state and County mandate that CEQA be complete before operations can begin, so I fully expect more than a few licenses to get held up next season because of the lack of a completed CEQA document.

CONCLUSION

In summary, the list of requirements will be far longer and more cumbersome than what anyone expect. While the applications may scramble once the pre-application is released, those who are working on their diagrams, CEQA/environmental compliance requirements, and have an operating company ready to go will likely be at the front of the line.

I’ll be at the El Dorado Growers Association meeting next Friday, October 3, 2019, at 6:30 p.m. discussing the application, with a focus on entity startup considerations. Hope to see you there. 🙂

Now go get ‘em, Sierra Nevada farmers!
~hb

NEWS FLASH! Nevada County proposes sweeping changes to Code Enforcement procedures (for cannabis and non-cannabis code violations) and they are super concerning.

A resolution to approve sweeping changes to the County’s ordinance enforcement rules for ALL LAND USE violations was quietly placed on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda for Tuesday. It is critical to note the County is now treating cannabis enforcement in the same manner as non-cannabis enforcement. But, rather than reduce the already strict cultivation enforcement procedures, the County is proposing to vastly increase their power over unregulated cannabis cultivation and, at the same time, subject enforcement for non-cannabis building and related code violations to these sweeping changes as well.

Here’s a rundown of the proposed changes:

REASONABLE CAUSE REMOVED

Currently, the Code requires “reasonable cause” to issue a citation. Under the proposed changes, a Notice of Violation, Abatement Order, or administrative citation may be issued, “[w]henever an Enforcement Officer determines that a Code Violation exists,” leaving the standard for citation (and massive fines) entirely up to the code officer’s discretion, rather than tethered to any verifiable standard of law.

RESPONSIBLE PARTIES

Perhaps worse than reducing the standard for issuance of a citation, these violations can be enforced against far more people, as the changes drastically expand the definition of who is responsible for code violations. While the “responsible party” is defined in such a sweeping manner that I am doubtful it would withstand legal challenge in all instances, here are the people who may now be held financially liable for the land use violations under the County’s proposed changes:

  1. The parent or guardian of a minor or “incompetent” person who gets an administrative citation from the County. If your minor or ward gets a ticket, you are financially responsible for their land use violations, even if you do not live on site or own the property.
  2. Any “independent contractor” who by their inaction maintains a code violation. By its terms, this includes contractors, engineers, architects, environmental consultants a landowner or tenant contracts with to bring a property into compliance, and subjects them to financial liability for simply doing nothing about a code violation when they come onsite, in some cases to cure a code violation.
  3. An “on-site manager” who regularly works on real property and is responsible for the business or other activities on that property.
  4. Owners, majority stockholders, corporate officers, trustees, general partners, or anyone else with the authority to act for a legal entity that is a responsible person. This means that anyone who owns any shares of an entity that owns the property, or the entity that owns a company that is running a business on that property, no matter how far removed they are from the operations.
  5. The new definition of “responsible party” includes a broad catchall that can rope in almost anyone: Any other individual, association, co-partnership, political subdivision, public entity, municipality, industry, public or private corporation, firm, organization, partnership, joint venture or any other person or entity whatsoever whose act or omission caused or contributed to a violation of this Code.”

JOINT AND SEVERAL LIABILITY FOR LANDLORDS 

Land owners who rent their properties will become liable “jointly and severally” with their tenants. So if the tenant skips out, the landowner is liable for the debts of their tenant, regardless of whether you had knowledge or not. 

Notably, this rule conflicts with a state statute, so again it is not likely the County’s proposed change would withstand legal challenge in instances where (1) there was a tenant, (2) whose written lease prohibited cannabis cultivation, and (3) the land owner did not have actual notice of the cultivation activity. 

GROUNDS TO DENY A PERMIT 

Folks who receive a Notice of Violation, Abatement Order, or administrative citation should know that the County may now consider these alleged violations as grounds to deny or revoke future permits, even where they are unrelated. Moreover, the County would have authority to suspend any and all permit applications until the purported code violations are cured, effectively halting forward progress and perhaps even denying pending permits, even after the code violations have been resolved successfully.

ADDITIONAL ISSUES OF CONCERN

  • Appeals of the County’s administrative hearing decisions will now be “limited civil actions,” rather than the “writ of administrative mandate,” as in the past. This may increase delay and legal costs for appealing the County’s decisions.
  • Folks who want to appeal their Notice of Violation, Abatement Order, or administrative citation must pay ALL OF THE PENALTIES IN ADVANCE, just to be eligible for the hearing! (*This is true of the current ordinance as well, but now would apply to all land use violations, not just cultivation.)
  • The inspection procedures for obtaining consent and inspection warrants is phrased in such a way to confuse a reasonable person about their ability to decline a request for an inspection.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

If you have issues with the County enacting an ordinance to expand their authority to enforce land use issues to such a sweeping extent, you’re welcome to speak out at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting tomorrow, September 24, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. at the Rood Center at 950 Maidu Avenue, Nevada City, CA 95959.

We’ll see you there.

Heather Burke and Sarah Smale
Origin Group Law LLP 

ALERT! CA Governor Newsom signs new law TODAY making it harder to use independent contractors


By Sarah Smale

Just hours ago, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB-5 into law, which is designed to: 

“[E]nsure workers who are currently exploited by being misclassified as independent contractors instead of recognized as employees have the basic rights and protections they deserve under the law, including a minimum wage, workers’ compensation if they are injured on the job, unemployment insurance, paid sick leave, and paid family leave.” 

This new law makes crystal clear that California will NOT tolerate misclassification of employees as independent workers. The new law goes so far as to say the ”misclassification of workers as independent contractors has been a significant factor in the erosion of the middle class and the rise in income inequality.” Wow!

To be sure, the State of California via AB 5 has made a clear declaration of public policy–the state intends to protect workers who miss out on basic protections as a result of improper classification.

The ABC Test

As a quick refresher on the rule, Dynamex v. Superior Court, a 2018 court case, already established the three-factor “ABC” test for claims arising under the wage orders and Labor Codes. The ABC test assumes the worker is an employee. To show the relationship was actually that of an independent contractor, the hirer must prove the worker:

  • If free from the control and direction of the hirer as to performing the work (both under the contract and in fact);
  • Performs work outside the usual course of the hirer’s business; and
  • Is customarily engaged in an independently established trade or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

In other words, most true independent contractors will be folks like a bookkeeper, the company who is hired to construct a building, or others providing a service different from what the farmer or cannabis operator does, which is something the contractor also does for others.

For farmers looking to bring in temporary help for the upcoming harvest–this distinction is critical. Even if someone will only be at the farm a few weeks, if they are engaging in work central to the cultivation operation, this is arguably an employment relationship, particularly if the farmer is overseeing the work.

Put ‘Em on Payroll

Wage claims are not claims a small business can afford to lose–there are multiple penalties for worker misclassification, ranging from a straight-up first-offense penalty of $5k-$15k for willful misclassification, to paying all the taxes that should have been withheld. Misclassification almost always means the hirer failed to maintain records required for all employees, and frequently results in a failure to ensure proper meal/rest periods and overtime policies.

The fallout from worker misclassification is a real and serious business risk–a risk no wise operator should take. And as of today, the State of California has made it abundantly clear that misclassifications are going to be taken more seriously than ever before.

~Sarah Smale
Co-Founding Partner
Origin Group Law LLP

PART 3 of 5: The Business Fundamentals Every California Cannabis Business Needs to Know: VETTING DEALS

Snakes in the Grass: Due Diligence and Proper Vetting of Potential Deals

By Heather Burke and Virginia Ryan

Considering the collective/cooperative model did not always allow sellers to vet buyers by anything more than word-of-mouth, today’s operators have a greater ability to vet those with whom they do business. Although business deals can and will still go sideways in the regulated era, licensees undoubtedly have more options in choosing business partners who give the deal a greater chance at success. When vetting a potential deal partner, I usually ask:

(1) Who are the potential deal partners (like, really, who are they?); and

(2) Will the deal benefit our goals?

Determining Who the Potential Deal Partners Are:

When figuring out who you’re about to do business with, I usually look at three areas: (1) regulatory vetting, (2) business vetting, and (3) the old school gut test.  Here’s a quick rundown of the first two:

1.  Regulatory Vetting

The law is clear that “all commercial cannabis activity shall be conducted between licensees.” 3 C.C.R. § 5032 (a). That means that a potential deal partner must have an active license from the State of California for the type of activity they will be providing to you.

For instance, if a manufacturer is offering to pick up your product, they will need both a manufacturing license and a distribution (Type 11) or transport (Type 13) license. Smart operators will utilize the BCC, DPH, and CDFA license search features to verify the validity of each license that will be involved in the deal and double check the validity of all relevant licenses prior to each transaction.

While each party has a duty to keep their licenses valid, and that representation or warranty should be included in any written agreement, that does NOT absolve the other party of the regulatory violation that would occur if they entered into a transaction with a party that did not have a license. As such, there is no substitute for double checking prior to each transaction.

2.  Business Vetting

Business vetting can also be called “due diligence,” both of which simply refer to the reasonable initial steps a wise operator will take in order to determine whether the company with whom they want to do business is trustworthy.  Here’s a non-exhaustive list of questions that you need answers to when determining whether they are worthy of your trust:
    • Is their entity filed properly on the Secretary of State website? Was the Statement of Information(s) filed timely?
    •  If they do business under a trade name, do they have a DBA on file in the County where their principal place of business is located?
    • Does the person you’re speaking with have “the capacity to bind the entity?”
    • Are written agreements acceptable?
    • Do they have references of people with whom they’ve done similar transactions?
    • Do they have an appropriate level of insurance based on the transaction?
    • Are they financially sound based on their financial statements or a due diligence call with the CFO?
    • What does an internet search or social media search tell you about the business and their founders or key personnel?
    • What do their facilities or operations look like?  Do guests go through a security protocol?  Is the facility organized with confidential documents appropriately safeguarded or does it look like a dorm room?

For some businesses, gathering this paperwork upon a request may be a struggle. If so, that is a strong indication the more complex negotiations required to engage in business at this level will make success almost impossible. Act accordingly.

Determining Whether the Deal Benefits Your Goals:

Desperation breeds lopsided contracts, meaning that a business desperate for a quick buck is more likely to accept unfavorable terms, which in turn increases the risk of a total loss. Instead, engage in the existential analysis regarding whether the other party shares your values and your vision, or can benefit your long term goals in the marketplace. Here are some examples:

  • Aligned Values: For example, if regenerative practices are important to your business model, do you want to do business with a company that does not value regenerative farming or does not employ sustainable practices themselves?
  • Longevity:  Is this a one-time event only, or are you setting up a longer term agreement? If it’s a one time thing, there is a greater chance of risk that it’s a cash grab by the other party.
  • Co-Branding: Is the other party open to having your logo and information on the final product, so that your company benefits from an increased brand identity? (*If building your own brand is your goal.)
Closing Thoughts
It is interesting to note that hyper-successful entrepreneurs invariably trust their intuition when vetting potential deals. Just as in the old world, sometimes you know a dud is a dud, so knowing when to walk away can be just as critical to one’s success as locating a potentially profitable deal. You got yourself to this point, which is historic in-and-of itself, so don’t be afraid to trust your instincts!
Much respect, ~hb
#protectourfarmers

**PS, keep a lookout for the final two blogs in this series:

PART 4: Contract Fundamentals: Dude, Where’s My Indemnity Clause and Other Super Fun Terms Every Cannabis Business Should Know

PART 5: Contracts Overview: What Paper to Push? (+ Sample Contracts)

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*This is a communication from a lawyer, but it does not constitute legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. This is intended for educational purposes only. Please contact an attorney for specific legal advice.