Warning of ‘trainwreck’ for cannabis industry

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – A cannabis attorney has told Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors that if a backlog of permit applications isn’t caught up with, the local industry will face a “trainwreck.”

The county’s cannabis cultivation permitting backlog was highlighted as supervisors approved extending a temporary permitting program at their Feb. 27 meeting.

Planning Director John Ford reported that about 360 interim or temporary permits have been issued to existing growers whose applications were deemed complete as of mid-July.

An additional 650 applications from existing growers are being reviewed and could be eligible for the interim permits, Ford continued, hence the need to extend the program.

The temporary permits allow cultivators to apply for temporary state licenses. The county is also processing permit applications for manufacturing, distribution and other cannabis-related businesses.

The county’s workload totaled about 1,700 pending permit applications as of last month.

Beorn Zepp, a Eureka-based attorney who represents and advises cannabis farmers, supports the interim program and its extension. But he warned that the emerging cannabis industry will falter if permanent permit approvals lag.

“This is really only a partial, temporary fix,” Zepp said.

He noted that state licenses themselves are only temporary at this point, with 120-day spans. They’ll begin to expire on May 1, Zepp said, and “if we don’t have significant movement on the final, actual permits by then, we are going to arrive at yet another trainwreck that holds up the entire industry and the permitting process.”

Zepp asked for more timely reviewing of permit requests because “at the rate we’re going, the present round of permits are going to be in process for years and we’re not going to be able to get this industry off the ground locally.”

Asked to respond to the permitting challenges by Supervisor Estelle Fennell, Ford said clearing the interim permitting workload is a top priority.

There are 150 interim permit applications that are “packaged and in the hands” of the county’s contracted permit review consultants and 46 are “totally incomplete.”

Submitters of the insufficient applications are being sent follow-up letters requesting more information. Another batch of applications will get more straightforward administrative approvals because they’re for operations that are principally permitted under the county’s commercial production ordinance, Ford said.

“The interim permits are absolutely the highest priority of anything we’re working on right now because we do recognize that the temporary state licenses will start to come due,” he added. “We really want to be in a place to have our permitting and the state’s permitting meshing and we don’t want to have, as was mentioned, a trainwreck.”

He said the county will be doing “cultivation area verifications” on all 650 of the waiting applications and growers will also be asked to sign compliance agreements.

Ford added that under a requirement for making applications complete within six months, 500 permit applications have been deemed as withdrawn.

Supervisor Mike Wilson said that some interim permittees won’t get permanent permits due to “market forces” or because grows are in “non-permittable locations.”

He said, “At some point, we will be hitting that wall.”


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