THE MENDOCINO CANNABIS ALLIANCE (MCA), which represents the dwindling number of quasi-legal pot cultivators in the County, has submitted the following under Public Expression for the Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. We have annotated it (itals) as necessary:
MCA appreciates that cannabis issues are back on the County’s agenda.
[When have cannabis issues NOT been on the County’s agenda?].
We take this opportunity to summarize in Public Expression several issues in critical need of your attention. MCA offers these comments in the spirit of both our past recommendations [which you have ignored] and your own notable and consistent directives [which, if they were ever made, have been consistently ignored] to the MCD (Mendocino Cannabis Department) to support and expedite the processing of our locally permitted cultivators.
We have recently heard reports that MCD is not providing local authorization to the State for permittees currently going through the (on-line permit application) portal process. If true, this practice jeopardizes the State licensing of our local operators, without which they can not engage in licensed cannabis activities, thus depriving them of any way to generate revenue with which to pay their taxes and fees to the County [except, of course, whatever black market/back door sales they may be able to arrange — the only way they were ever able to stay in business since the permits are stalled, complicated and minimally profitable at best].
Applicants going through the portal have been operating for years through uncertain and ever changing processes, and with all of the struggles in the market we must enable them every opportunity to remain in the licensed market lest we irreparably harm their ability to maintain their businesses.
[Supervisor Williams has said 90% of current pending applicants will never get a state license so providing “local authorization” for incomplete applications is just postponing the inevitable. And incomplete can mean anything from significant omissions to nit-pick.] We recommend that the Board investigate this claim and if it is accurate, that you direct MCD to provide local authorization to the state for all locally authorized operators unless and until they have their application or permit actually denied by MCD.
[The basic problem is most pot applicants never submitted a complete application, which is why the portal process was created, but the pot advocates want the county to keep playing along with the “locally authorized” but hopelessly incomplete operators].
* * *
Equity Grant Process
The Equity Grant Program is still riddled with challenges and confusion. [At least the county is consistent!] We sincerely appreciate the efforts of the Ad Hoc to intervene, [not that it’s helped in any way at all] and suggest another meeting [sic] with stakeholders, the Ad Hoc, County Counsel and MCD. Here are specific recommendations that address some current problems with administration of the Equity Grants:
1. Provide specific direction to MCD to make all newly confirmed allowable direct grant uses accessible to current awardees and applicants through a Contract Modification process, rather than forcing them to wait until September when they must reapply for a new grant [because we want the Equity Grant Money handed out NOW because most of the applicants will be outta business by September].
The BoS already unanimously passed a resolution to increase these allowable uses but the rollout is not in line with that previous direction.
2. We recommend an audit of Elevate Impact, the contractor handling Equity Grant administration for the County, which has exhibited little to no practical effort in making this program a success. In fact, communications that many of our members have received indicate that the contractor has now “paused” the work of staff processing applications, referring all questions to just one remaining staff person, the CEO of the company.
[Most likely because the behind the scenes decision makers (think CEO & County Counsel) became concerned about having to pay back millions in Equity Grants handed out to applicants who aren’t state-legal and never will be].
MCD Director Kristin Nevedal has seemingly indicated that she is unaware of this fact [which may or may not be a fact].
3. We request a report of how many equity grant checks have been successfully distributed. For some reason MCD has refused to share this information with the public [probably because the number is stuck at, or near, zero].
Equity applicants must fill out a W9 form in order to receive direct grant funding. They must decide if they would like the check to be deposited into a business bank account or a personal bank account. The W9 must be filled out according to which type of bank account they will be depositing the funds into. If an applicant chooses to deposit into a personal bank account, it's imperative that their business name information is not disclosed on the check, otherwise due to banking issues, an applicant runs the risk of having their bank account shut down. It has come to our attention that an applicant received their funding with this error and are now awaiting response from the auditor to have this corrected - already resulting in additional weeks of delay in receiving the funds.
[Federal denial of banking access to pot growers is indefensible, but if Sky High Farms is the Equity Grant applicant and the county makes the check payable to an individual, what’s to prevent the individual from diverting the funds into their own pocket, especially with the underground history of the pot industry?]
We encourage MCD to carefully review applicant submissions of this kind to avoid these types of delays for other applicants in the future.
Despite numerous directions to the Department to staff up, and the allocation of significant portions of the LJAGP towards contractors and staff to support the efforts of the Department, attendees to the MCD Weekly Meeting on Friday were informed that MCD is currently under a “hiring freeze” and is not expecting to see any staffing relief until September at the earliest.
[Which should be no surprise, since keeping hundreds of positions vacant is the Secret Sauce baked into the budget that former CEO Carmel Angelo (and now Interim CEO Darcie Antle) rely on to keep the county in the black – never mind if nothing gets done and no services are provided.]
(Click: https://youtu.be/geoch_zEbzM?t=2178 for recording - starts at 36:19 in, and the Freeze is mentioned at 39:31).
It is incredibly confusing and demoralizing to continue to hear that the Department is unable to perform its basic duties due to understaffing, and simultaneously hear that they are not engaging in any immediate steps that will lead to immediate hires.
[Once again, the county is at least being consistent. Why should the Cannabis Department be allowed to hire staff and provide services when other departments can’t?]
The staffing issue has literally existed since Director Nevedal joined the Program over a year ago, [again, the hiring freeze-caused staffing shortages are baked into the budget and existed long before Nevedal was hired] and every day it continues, is a day that jeopardizes the success of our entire community.
We have been told for months that processing both permit and equity applications and Appendix G’s [the half-assed environmental impact work-around paperwork] will improve with the hiring of more staff and contractors. In the case of Equity operators, the current tranche of funds must be distributed by August 2022. If there are no new hires coming to help that process, and Elevate Impact has reduced its staffing, we do not see any way that 100+ grant applications will be reviewed, approved and paid out in our already extended window, which as we know could lead to the return of those undistributed funds to the State.
[It’s hard to know if this is the usual incompetence of the county or a strategy to prevent paying grant money to ineligible applicants who will never get a state license.]
It is clear that additional supervision of the MCD would benefit both the County and the hundreds of operators who are doing everything they can to try and work through the system despite the constant confusion. We urge the Board and MCD to work directly with Stakeholders to dig into the challenges presented above. To continue with “business as usual” will surely lead to additional negative outcomes not just for the permitted cannabis community, but Mendocino County as a whole.
[There is no basis in fact to assume any amount of additional supervision will benefit anyone, but the cannabis advocates keep thinking that the same Supervisors who created this mess can somehow fix it. Just last month Supervisor McGourty admitted that he was not qualified to legislate on cannabis. As was noted at the time, at least he was honest enough to admit it.]
Thank you for your consideration of these important items. We remain available to work with you to improve conditions on the ground for the County and locally authorized operators.
[But they won’t be surprised if the Board ignores their recommendations just like they’ve ignored their previous ones. Everyone knows this mess is not salvageable, but they keep hoping to get a few more membership dues just like they hope to get a few more tax payments, even when there’s no (legal reported) sales. It’s in the cannabis program’s best interest to keep fooling the remaining applicants into thinking the County can make the current failed mess of a pot program work.]
Mendocino Cannabis Alliance