Note: This is the first of a series on area cannabis businesses, many of which are located in the town’s Cannabis Innovation Zone (CIZ). – Ed.
Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – At the northernmost end of Arcata’s Cannabis Innovation Zone lies a nondescript warehouse whose humble features hide a vibrant enterprise, one supplying a certain local growth industry with prime product while taking time to provide community leadership and social responsibility.
“As cannabis moves from the shadows into the spotlight, we uphold the spirit which has seen this dynamic plant evolve from the secret heart of California to mainstream consumption — the spirit of integrity,” reads the Altum Mind website. “We come from a tradition that honors the handshake on a dirt road, and we will have that quality reflected in every aspect of our collective.”
The high-minded approach to the cannabis trade is advertised in its name, which means “high mind” in Latin.
“Part of the mission is knowing where we came from and building up the community around us,” said Ian Hart, Director of Operations.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t get their hands dirty. Altum Mind’s meat and potatoes are trim and buds, purchased from area farmers and prepared for sale to higher-end manufacturers. The company employs 22 full-time workers, and another 15 or so on a temporary basis.
They don’t make it easy on themselves, because not just any cannabis will do. A prospective seller’s product must be assessed on site, then third-party tested for purity and quality.
If it passes muster, the product is brought in, given preliminary processing, then packaged and prepared for delivery – often to another business in the CIZ.
Security is tight at the Altum warehouse, with photography discouraged. The costly layers of protection secure a strictly controlled inventory of product which is carefully tracked from acquisition to delivery as part of the massive body of state and local regulation that directs their every move.
Making compliance even more difficult is the ever-changing nature of the rules under which the burgeoning cannabis business must operate. “There’s a lot of confusion and complication,” Hart said, which isn’t aided by the “big disconnect between lawmakers and reality.”
“It is evolving,” he said. “We’re building the plane as we fly it.”
One thing holding back the industry is federal intransigence over matters of finance. Much of the banking apparatus available to all other business remains off limits to cannabiz, since the feds don’t recognize its legitimacy.
“It’s hard to be legit if we can’t do banking properly,” Hart said.
The company finds local regulators much easier to deal with, from city planners to the police department.
“I think they want us to succeed,” Hart said. “Every day we’re more confident.”
Where 10 years ago law enforcement and the cannabis industry were at odds, today in the CIZ, they’re partners in protecting and nurturing a newly legitimized industry. “We have to give them credit for diligence,” Hart said of APD. “They’ve really been an ally.”
The feeling is mutual, according to Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn. He’s been a fan ever since Altum Mind co-sponsored community cleanups in the nearby Valley West neighborhood with CommUnity Pride & Peace and the Ganjery.
“Altum Mind really stepped up and took a leadership role in bringing the businesses in the zone into Valley West,” Ahearn said. “They’re bringing everyone together by developing common goals and a shared philosophy.”
“It is very important for us to give back, and look out for the community,” said Kristin Blue, Altum Mind Communications Manager.
“Their heart is in it and they’re here to make a difference,” echoed Ahearn.
One group for whom Altum Mind is making a huge difference is its workers. Full timers get full medical, dental and vision coverage, plus vacations, in addition to the labor law protection afforded cannabis workers who’ve come out of the shadows of the underground economy.
In November 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64, the Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act which made not just Altum Mind possible, but the 60 to 80 cannabis-related businesses in Arcata.
Last Thursday, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration reported revenue numbers for cannabis sales for the second quarter of 2019. As of Aug. 16, 2019, California’s cannabis excise tax generated $74.2 million in revenue and the cultivation tax generated $22.6 million. Sales tax from cannabis businesses totaled $47.4 million in reported revenue for the same period. Total tax revenue reported by the cannabis industry is $144.2 million for the second quarter.
Building on its Arcata success, Altum Mind is soon to open a branch in Southern Humboldt, where, in Honeydew, it got its start.
The job growth and the contributions to the economy and the community is helping to bury the old stigma surrounding the cannabis industry, with Altum Mind at the forefront.
“It’s an exciting time to see all the technology and innovation out there,” Blue said.