November 8, 2021 — The online cannabis re-application portal closed late Tuesday night, amid confusion about the final requirements and the fate of incomplete applications. At this point, it’s not clear if those who re-submitted their applications online will be denied a permit if they are missing any documents.
Michael Katz, the Executive Director of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, sent KZYX an email that an applicant received from the cannabis program in late October, saying that “ALL submissions will be reviewed! We will not be denying applications because we’ve had to ask for additional information that was not clarified ahead of time.”
But on the day the applications were due, Katz flagged a line in a reminder email from the program with the opposite message, saying, “Once the portal closes no further materials can be submitted. Please be sure to check your submission materials prior to pressing submit as incomplete applications will be denied.”
Katz said that among his members: “the average story is one of confusion, not feeling supported, and being forced to jump through new and poorly defined hoops.”
Sarah Hake has heard a similar sentiment among her client base. Hake is the COO of Countervail Inc., which specializes in bookkeeping, tax preparation and legal compliance for people in the cannabis business. She said she was working on 40-50 portal applications for her clients right up to the deadline. She reported that the changing requirements were detailed and often came at the worst possible time, in the middle of harvest during a year when cannabis prices have plummeted.
“What you’re telling us is if somebody is deemed incomplete, they’re going to be denied,” she said, outlining the situation. “And then you’re deeming them incomplete for things that they weren’t told were needed, or things that weren’t clearly communicated, or things like a bullfrog management plan, where there’s absolutely no documentation as to what that should include or what that should look like, so we’re all having to guess as to what that should be and then being told that’s not good enough.”
Cultivators are required to pay a minimum tax every year, and Hake wondered if her clients would have to pay the tax, even if their applications are eventually denied. And she’s been told she might have to wait until after the first of the year to find out the status of some of those applications. “So now you’ve bumped these cultivators who may get denied through the end of the year into another year,” she said, envisioning the possibility. “Are you going to charge them the minimum tax for that? And they’re feeling taken advantage of in this way, that, oh, you’re just going to charge me the five thousand dollars, and then kick me out of the program. There’s a lot of frustration, and I think a lot of heartbreak and a lot of fear,” she concluded.
Kristin Nevedal was promoted from cannabis program manager to cannabis program director on October 19th. CEO Carmel Angelo confirmed that Nevedal still reports directly to the Board of Supervisors. Katz wants more supervisorial involvement to resolve what he sees as a systemic lack of clarity throughout the cannabis program. “The board, minus Supervisor Haschak, has continually chosen not to pursue a committee of any sort to address the myriad issues that are facing the program,” he complained. “When the program manager was promoted to program director, there was no job description posted. The details of that job and what are specifically different about it from the program manager position, that was not provided. Given the confusion around every licensee’s status in the program at the moment, it would be our hope that the county would be willing to have these conversations openly and transparently.”
But since the repeal of Chapter 22.18, the cannabis ordinance the board planned to replace 10a17, cannabis has not played its formerly prominent role on the Board of Supervisors agendas. There is a consent calendar item tomorrow about the submission of an application for an $18 million grant from the state Department of Cannabis Control. But most cannabis-related matters have been addressed during public comment, including reports from Nevedal, where supervisors can ask clarifying questions but cannot give direction because no formal discussion has been agendized.
Supervisor John Haschak explained his understanding of Nevedal’s comments at the last meeting on October 26, the board’s intent, and how he’d like to resolve any confusion. “The intent of the board is really to get the people in and then process those,” he said. “And I thought that that’s what the cannabis program manager had said, was that they were going to process the ones that had been submitted, even though it’s not possible to deal with the thousands and thousands of documents at the time...So that’s what I hope happens. I think it’s the intent of the board to kind of separate those who aren’t serious about applying for a permit and those that are...there have been some changes in the portal,” he acknowledged. “It’s a new process. It’s technology at its best and sometimes worst, and so there are going to be glitches. I think that we need to have a working group of the board, an ad hoc group, to look at the issues, try to deal with them, and create a process for people to appeal whatever decision is made in the cannabis program. So that we can get as many people through the system who really want to get through and be legal and permitted. I think that should be the intent.”
There’s not much appetite from the rest of the board for an ongoing standing committee to address cannabis issues, but Supervisor Glenn McGourty told KZYX he’d be willing to serve on short-term assignments with a specific and focussed purpose, like resolving the portal.
Sarah Hake shared her wish list. “Let us know why you’re asking for the thing,” she began; “exactly what it is you want so we can hand you that document. And make it easy on everyone. Because nobody wants to be out of compliance. These people are doing this because they want to be in compliance.”
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KZYX reporters cover local news for Mendocino County, California, Monday through Friday in six and a half minute reports. Featuring Sarah Reith, Sonia Waraich, Michelle Blackwell, Jim Culp, Marty Durlin and Alicia Bales.