Supes Notes (Jan. 9, 2019)

A UKIAH VALLEY MARIJUANA FARMER with a hard-won legal permit told us Tuesday that the Savings Bank of Mendocino County had canceled his account, telling the guy to come and get his money out. The bank had somehow become aware that he was legally permitted to farm marijuana. The man tried to explain that to the Bank that none of his pot business money was going into or out of the Savings Bank account, but the bank didn't care. They told him they didn't want his business because of his pot permit and canceled him. In essence, the bank he’d done business with for years when he was an ILLEGAL grower didn’t care where the money came from, but once he made it official and legal they dumped him. 

WE CHECKED WITH another grower to see how widespread the Savings Bank's arbitrary approach to Mendocino County's primary ag crop producers was: “I have heard of this happening to many growers. Savings Bank closed my account, too. Like your reader, I was not using the account for cannabis transactions. I simply got a letter from the bank saying that they were closing my account, and I needed to take my money out within X number of days. They didn’t tell me why, but when I kept insisting someone explain, eventually a supervisor said, “Do you have a cannabis business?” I said “Yes.” “That is why we are closing your account,” she said. I think she added that growing cannabis is against federal law and they are federally insured. I don’t know how she knew. Many other banks close the accounts of people they discover grow cannabis. Almost every grower I know has had one, often several accounts closed by banks, even if their business is legal under state law, as mine was. It is a MAJOR problem, this lack of banks, for big and little businesses. I think if your cannabis business is held by an LLC or you create some legal entity that is not directly related to to cannabis, you may be able to get around the banking laws. Places like Flow Kana have companies within companies that aren’t directly cannabis-related so they can bank as individuals. The big guys have ways around this problem, but banking is a huge national problem for the industry that keeps the criminal element closer to the cannabis world than anyone would like. … Banking issues have been mentioned at Supervisors meetings, but since the Board doesn’t control fed banking policies, it’s not raised regularly, not like changes needed in the local cannabis ordinance. You will not meet a single grower in this county who has not had trouble with banks closing their accounts. There has been some movement at the state level to create a community bank to get around fed banking regs, in large part because of cannabis industry problems, and a state has a working group has been tasked with trying to come up with a plan, but I haven’t heard anything about it in a while. I think some locals have asked the Board to look into something similar locally, and many have mentioned frustration with banking during public comment, but it’s definitely not at the top of the list of things growers expect the Board to do. The board barely deals with what it does have control over, like amend the regs, much less banking. PS. I just read this in an article on an LA cannabis distributor called Eaze from the BBC: “The biggest issue for him and the other retailers is the finance model now that cannabis selling has moved from a cash economy to credit or debit card purchases. Because cannabis is not legal at a national level in the US, many banks refuse to finance such selling, or drop retailers once they find out what they sell. It has left people like Mr. Siegel playing banking whack-a-mole. ‘We have to change banks every three months. If the state doesn't do something, or something happens at a federal level, we will run out of banks,’ he told the BBC. Despite this, he does see platforms such as Eaze continuing to flourish.” 

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NOTING this congratulatory comment re Mendo County's vaunted on-line accessibility: 

"I wish Humboldt Co put their public information online in ways that didn’t need painful, circular, byzantine searches that constantly route you back to the start without providing anything at all. You’d think they’d want the public to be able to access public information but apparently it’s treated more like a search for the Holy Grail- you know it’s there but you have to pay with blood just for attempting the search,"

MARK SCARAMELLA NOTES: Mendo's site, especially for beginners, is similarly daunting, requiring the blood sacrifice, unfortunately. At on-line Mendo, with a little experience you can get to some "customer"-ish stuff. But useful information either isn't there at all (i.e., budget status by department) or is buried behind layers of jargonized choices. And if you should by chance get to, for instance, the Planning Department's fee schedule... Oh boy, you'll be sorry you did.

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THE SUPES HAVE CUT THEIR WORKLOAD down to just 25 meetings a year, according to the proposed “master meeting calendar” for 2019 (prepared by CEO Angelo, not the Board btw). This is being done the year following the huge raise they gave themselves last year without any pesky grand jury, pay panel or delay as in prior years. Factor in that the board meetings include a lot of pointless process discussions, consent calendar items, proclamations, canned presentations and pre-packaged recommendations from committees, lots of idle questions that are not answered, no master list of assignments to staff with deadlines… Coincidentally, the board has also trimmed its standing committee workload down to just two, a public safety committee and a general government committee, neither of which meet regularly, and even when meetings are scheduled, they are frequently canceled. 

COUPLA questions begged: Why don't the Supes, as an act of solidarity with the marijuana farmers the county's economy depends on withdraw county funds from the Savings Bank? And given their new work loads, why don't the Supervisors cut their pay by at least half? 

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POT PERMITS STILL STALLED 

Speaking of pot, the December progress report shows essentially no improvement in pot permit processing since last report (which also showed little improvement like all the ones before that). And still no accounting of which permits are held up where for how long, as requested by the Board last year. 

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CONSENT CALENDAR ITEM 4u) on next Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors Agenda is: “Approval of Recommendation from the Mental Health Treatment Act Citizen’s Oversight Committee to Add Two Additional Mobile Outreach Program Services (MOPS) Teams Using Measure B Services Tax Funds (in the amount of $514,600) for Mental Health Preventative Services to the Outlying Areas in Mendocino County; and Recommendation to Establish Measurable Metrics to be Evaluated at Six Month Intervals to Monitor the Effectiveness of the Program and Make Adjustments as Needed.” 

THIS CONSENT ITEM is a follow-up to last year’s Measure B Oversight Committee recommendation to increase the number of mental health mobile outreach teams by two from three to five, funded by the Measure B half-cent sales tax. This consent item would be routine and not worthy of comment except that it 1) does not address the pay inequity problem that the Sheriff noted last year: the mental health staffer in the MOPS unit is paid a lot more money for doing essentially the same thing as the non-uniformed law enforcement officer who rides in the same vehicle. And 2) it calls for something that Mendo can’t do: “establish measurable metrics.” The key word here is “establish” which is very different from “provide.” So I guess they’re safe.

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