County Notes

by Mark Scaramella, November 22, 2017

Those delayed Prop 172 checks for local fire departments were finally discussed Tuesday. Supervisors Dan Gjerde, Carre Brown and Dan Hamburg all thought that “this year’s” checks were supposed to have gone out already using “last year’s” formula that was agreed to by the County and over 20 local fire departments. But Board Chair John McCowen said he thought the formula was flawed because cities didn’t get their fair share based on population and that he didn’t remember voting on “this year’s” payments because he would have objected had it come up. McCowen thought the issue had been referred to the Public Resources Committee, but after several awkward moments of confusion nobody could find “the referral,” much less the decision to make the second allocation that the Board made when they approved the current year’s budget. In the end, seeing as how there’s already been months of delay, the Board decided to put the question on their “next available agenda” — their version of a speedy process. But, oops, their agenda is full and, as CEO Angelo noted, the question will take some time because lots of fire chiefs are likely to be on hand to gripe, er, comment. So it will be set for Dec. 5 if possible, and Dec. 13 if not Dec. 5. Ms. Angelo said her office would notify all the Fire Districts which day it would be set for soon. Meanwhile, as Ms. Angelo said, the fire departments want their money.

The back end of the fire debris clean up project — e.g., what happens to the dump trucks once they leaves the debris sites with full loads, and can they really work effectively over the winter with wet and damaged roads which might be further damaged by heavy debris removal vehicles — was discussed briefly Tuesday after local contractor rep Lee Howard told the Board that the County hadn’t properly factored in winter weather when they set their target completion dates and dump trucks were being delayed for hours at the big NorCal dump in Novato meaning they can only do one load a day instead of two. US Army Corps of Engineers rep Laura Ortiz told the Board that they had recently added a second scale at the Novato dump and that it had significantly reduced those long delays. Ms. Ortiz also said she would bring the winter operations issue to her regional boss in Sacramento and get back to Mendo ASAP (Dec. 5? Dec. 13?). For now, the County and the Corps of Engineers has set a rather arbitary Feb. 1, 2018 as the completion date for debris clean up (mainly because the Army Corps wants to be able to move on to the next mess soon and predictably). But there are a lot of people who don’t think that Feb. 1 date is realistic and will have to be pushed out.

In pot permit news, County Ag Commissioner Diane Curry told the board that the state’s “emergency regulations” are supposed to be out this week. Delays and regroupings have resulted in the “emergency” regs (i.e., not the “preliminary” regs) because Prop 64 kicks in on January 1 and the state’s burgeoning army of pot regulators have not been able to complete the “preliminary” regs, having suffered two false starts already. Ms. Curry reported that two of her marijuana permit processing staffers had moved on to “bigger and better things,” and she is in the process of trying to replace them. (There’s a boom in the pot regulation business for county and state staff as well as a back-up army of consultants, Fish and Wildlife officials, water staffers and experts, lawyers, engineers, inspectors, etc. and Mendo seems to have become a good training ground for wannabe regulators.) Ms. Curry said she has completed 403 pre-site inspections of permit applications and issued 50 approvals. (Nobody asked what was still taking so long beyond the loss of the two staffers.)

County Code Enforcement Chief Trent Taylor said his workload has decreased now and about half his staff is working the state department of toxic substances control (DTSC) in the wake of the big fire disaster. Taylor got a few giggles out of the sparse crowd when he said that of the 148 complaints (of 331 total) that had been “resolved,” a significant percentage of the 148 were “resolved by way of harvest.”

Local pot attorney Hannah Nelson told the Board that the State Water Board’s regs — (way) over and above the “emergency” regs the California Department of Cannabis Control is working on — were just released and that they are “detailed and stringent.”

Candidate Haschak. Longtime Mendocino County and Willits resident and public school teacher, John Haschak, has announced his candidacy for 3rd District Supervisor. Haschak has taught in Willits public schools for 28 years. According to his press release,  the candidate is quite adept at statements of the obvious, which he rattled off in his presser announcing his candidacy with unerring predictability. Haschak “sees a need for strong leadership, especially after the recent devastating fires and pledges to make public safety and disaster preparedness a priority in his campaign and in office. We can count on seeing more such devastating events in the future, with the realities of climate change combined with our rugged and forested terrain. What we love so much about our County — its natural beauty, wilderness and rural atmosphere — also contribute to the danger of fires and other natural disasters.” Etc.

“Sticker Shock Coming With California’s New Pot Market” is the title of a recent Associated Press item by reporter Michael Blood. The “sticker shock” he’s referring to is the retail price, not the price the pot grower gets, which presently at is historic lows.

Blood reports that taxes, fees, permits and compliance at City, County and State levels will raise the retail price of recreational pot from $35 per 1/8th ounce (in Los Angeles) to $50 or $60 per 1/8th ounce. Converting those numbers to a per pound price means that the retail price of pot will increase from, respectively, $4500 per pound to between $6400 per pound and $7700 per pound. Local growers who have trouble selling their bulk pot at $400 or $500 per pound might be better off selling direct, like many local wine producers. But so far, only medical marijuana can be purchased on line, and that only if a number of conditions are met.

Mr. Blood’s AP article also quotes a marijuana attorney as saying it costs up to $200k to be fully licensed and permitted to sell retail pot — if the local area allows retail sales, presumably under another set of restrictions.

Local growers, even if they’re smoking some of their own product, permitted or not (or some combination), are sure to notice the difference between the wholesale price they get compared with an equivalent retail price of more than ten times that. There seems to be an opening for such direct and online sales because starting in 2018 adults 21 and over can possess, transport (our emphasis) and gift up to an ounce of cannabis to other adults 21 and over, as well as possess, transport and gift up to seven grams of hash, and they can grow up to six plants indoors. Lots of obvious wiggle room there — and no permit required.

Plus the semi-legal semi-legit medical side of the cannabis business remains in place.

But banks will not do business with legal pot because it’s still a federal felony and their licenses might be jeopardized. So retail businesses will have to handle their finances another way, presumably cash, which subjects them to theft or other problems — especially when it comes time to pay the various taxes on their product — and subject themselves to audits?

Lots of locals are starting to wish they could put the legalization genie back in the bottle with the rest of the toothpaste and the pot infused tincture (pardon the overmix). But it’s too late

You’ll know that pot has reached equivalency with wine when growers have their own tasting rooms and their own online sales websites. Until that time, there’s going to be a lot to overcome.

Attorney Anthony Adams, recently hired as a Mendocino Public Defender, has an interesting background in that he’s a former Republican Assemblyman from Hesperia.

One Response to County Notes

  1. izzy Reply

    November 28, 2017 at 11:00 am

    “Sticker Shock”?

    It looks like (and as predicted), in an effort to wring as much money as possible out of the cannabis market, government is imposing such an onerous tax and fee schedule that retail prices will meet or exceed current black market valuations. Of course, this will provide plenty of incentive for the illegal trade to keep on keepin’ on, with all the attendant problems of crime, violence and environmental degradation we are familiar with. Driving the price higher than it already is will hardly be motivation to bail out now. It should be back to the drawing board with this project, but that is only the faintest of hopes in such a generally retrograde time as this.

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