Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Moving forward on a three-pronged cannabis economic support strategy, Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors has approved an assistance program for cannabis farms and businesses.
Supervisors approved an urgency ordinance creating a Local Equity Program (LEP) at their March 19 meeting. The urgency stems from a looming deadline to apply for state funding.
The LEP aims to compensate for the impacts of pre-legalization law enforcement actions.
A state law, SB 1294, has established a $10 million funding pool for such programs and if grant awards are approved, Humboldt and other communities will receive a minimum of $100,000 each.
A resolution adopting the program proclaims that “past criminalization of cannabis adversely impacted communities throughout both rural and urban communities throughout Humboldt County, including individuals subject to arrest, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration, and the resultant impacts on their family members.”
Other eligibility standards are related to income, being a member of a “disadvantaged community” and grow size.
The program’s grants will financially assist eligible cannabis businesses in a variety of ways, including regulatory compliance, start up and administration of road associations and coops, and loans or grants for water storage, solar installations and remediation.
It’s the kind of assistance that federal agencies like the Small Business Administration provide to other, more established industries. Supervisor Mike Wilson noted that and described the program – and the legalized cannabis industry – as being in formative stages.
“Everything that we’re doing, even in this moment, probably won’t be the same three years from now,” he said. “Or even two years from now and probably, when we really evaluate this a year from now, we’re going to be in a very different situation and we’re going to adjust.”
County Economic Development Director Scott Adair said there’s “not a lot of clarity” on when the state’s grant awards will be paid out but “there seems to be a real push or effort on their part to quickly distribute monies.”
During a public comment session, Thomas Mulder of Humboldt Redwood Healing supported giving small-scale farms funding preference.
“I’d like to see language that prioritizes the money for those people that are going to help hold up our economy, locally – the people that have been here forever and are going to be about sustainability,” he said.
Cultivation in area of less than 10,000 square feet has been cited as the threshold of small scale but Panther Gap cultivator Karl Witt told supervisors that farmers of all size scales need help, saying quote, “We’re not under 10,000 square feet but we can struggle just as hard as the small farmer can.”
Another Panther Gap cannabis farm operator said that state licensing conditions make larger farms the competitive norm.
“We have an acre-and-a-half, which seems large to some people but with the removal of the one-acre cap at the state level, it’s a small farm now,” she said.
The LEP’s eligibility standards do cite less than 10,000 square feet of grow area as a category but Supervisor Steve Madrone wanted to have it defined as a funding priority along with sungrown outdoor cultivation.
Supervisor Estelle Fennell noted the support of the smaller farms in the previous meeting’s discussion and said, “That’s the message we want to send to staff also with the equity program.”
But with the state application deadline at hand, supervisors wanted to approve the program as quickly as possible.
The board unanimously voted to do so, but supervisors and staff said that changes can be made later.
The two other programs on the blackboard – a mini-grant assistance program and a marketing and branding program – are being developed and Adair said that as soon the LEP application is submitted to the state, his department will start work on them.