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Eye in the sky: Drone monitoring of Nevada County cannabis in the pipeline

Thirty-two percent of cannabis complaints couldn’t be confirmed in Nevada County because of locked gates, fences and other visual obstructions.

Two of those unverifiable sites ended up as wildfires, said Craig Griesbach, county building director.

“One of the fire events happened during the Jones Fire of 2020, pulling air attack resources off the Jones Fire to address this concurrent threat to life and property,” said Griesbach. “Cannabis-related violations, including generators that were not permitted on both sites, could have been verified with the use of (drone) technology and therefore mitigated before these fires started.”

A pilot program involving the use of drones to spot illegal cannabis grows is set to start this spring in Nevada County.

A one-time cost of $10,000 that covers the tools and staff training is a general fund allocation, said Jeff Merriman, county code and compliance divisions program manger.

“Costs will be recovered through the issuance and payment of administrative fines associated to cannabis enforcement activities,” he added.

Officials anticipate they’ll purchase equipment and perform staff training from now through March. The program will last from May through August 2022. From November 2022 through February 2023, there will be a review of program activity, data and a report to supervisors.

“Cannabis Compliance Division field staff will be the only staff licensed to utilize this tool,” Merriman said. He said there will be 10 to 15 hours of training. There’s also a required licensing exam and annual testing to maintain the drone pilot license, which is done through the Federal Aviation Administration.

Merriman said his department is specifically looking for cannabis cultivation that is not permitted.

“This will include plants, but may also include other violations such as greenhouses, grading, electrical or other operations associated with cannabis cultivation that has not already been issued a permit.”

Program guidelines are specific in that only photos of a violation will be taken. There are to be no photos of people.

“Furthermore, the tool will only be operated vertically from a publicly accessible area or a reporting party’s parcel when consent is provided,” said Merriman. “This is the only program in the state we are aware of which limits the ability to fly over a private parcel.”

Should someone attempt to disable the drone by shooting at it, or if a malfunction or accident immobilizes the drone, the cannabis program manager will be told immediately and an incident report will be filed with the county’s risk management department. Also, the FAA will be informed within 10 days, as required by law.

PRIVACY

Griesbach also said a reasonable expectation of privacy will remain. The drones will only be used in instances of illegal cannabis cultivation. All drone surveillance will be exerted only if all other tools have been attempted and exhausted. Flight paths will adhere to public right-of-way and fly over public property only if prior approval is obtained. In addition, all flight plans will be approved by program managers and all FAA regulations will be followed.

Questions were raised at an August supervisors meeting about drone surveillance being an invasion of privacy.

Michael Vitiello, a law professor at the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific, said as long as drones are flying at navigable air space — which the Supreme Court does not define — that such surveillance is not unreasonable and will not violate the Fourth Amendment protections of unreasonable search.

Diana Gammon, executive director of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, said her organization supports enforcement against egregious non-permitted cannabis farms.

“We acknowledge the county needs to verify these sites,” said Gamzon. “Our organization remains concerned with drones as the primary tool for verification, and instead supports existing tools, such as as planes, to obtain the required information.”

Gamzon said there’s currently an oversupply of product in California, causing a decrease in prices. Incentive to enter or remain in the industry is low.

“To ensure our industry succeeds, our focus in Nevada County must be to support our existing cannabis businesses by creating opportunity for additional license types, including tourism opportunities,” she said.

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com

Foothills Event Center eyed for cannabis dispensary

 

Grass Valley has started its evaluation of applicants for a variety of cannabis businesses — among them a dispensary proposed at the present location of the Foothills Event Center, at 400 Idaho Maryland Road.

Alanna Haley is the CEO of Sierra Flower Co., which is eyeing the location. She’s also owner of V’TAE Parfum & Body Care.

The Foothills Events Center is being sold to Ag Natural owner Roy Harris, center owner Mardie Caldwell has said. Harris could not be reached for comment.

Haley said she plans to move into the events center, but declined to disclose further details because the deal isn’t finalized.

“Yes, we’re moving into the Foothills Events Center. We have an agreement with Roy (Harris),” she said.

Haley added that she will only use a portion of the center, approximately 3,600 square feet. Sierra Flower has synergy and good relations with Harris, though she has no plans to collaborate on business projects with Ag Natural.

A separate company — Grass Valley Provisions LLC — has proposed to open a dispensary in Ag Natural, across the street from the Foothills Event Center.

Haley said that what attracted her to the events center is that it’s the perfect location and will need minimal work. It also allows her to be operational within six months of receiving state and local licensing. It’s already ADA compliant and has solar panels, while adhering to her company’s intent to be as green as possible.

“From a security standpoint, it’s a great location — set back from the street, is well lit, has security cameras and only two entrances,” said Haley.

What encouraged Haley to get into the cannabis industry was caring for an elderly aunt stricken with cancer. Haley procured THC products to help relieve her pain, with successful results.

“I’ve seen cannabis businesses bring prosperity to the county and we (sister Alissa Hicks as a business partner) want to benefit nonprofits and licensed growers to help them succeed and expand their business, and help consumers access licensed products they have confidence contain pure ingredients,” she said.

Also, Haley’s company is a female-centered business with key roles assumed by women.

“Being women led we can serve as role models to those just entering business,” she said. “Our vision is to view cannabis as a palliative for those who experience painful symptoms. We want to be a wellness center that our community can be proud of.”

In a cover letter to city staff, Haley noted at the heart of her application is the ability to create good paying jobs for locals who envision being part of a fast growing industry that benefits a diverse group of residents.

AG NATURAL

Grass Valley Provisions LLC plans to move into the Ag Natural premises, across the street from the Foothills Event Center. Cameron Brady said he’s eager to set up at the site.

“I spoke to the owner and conveyed my intention to beautify the building and run my cannabis business from there,” said Brady, one of three Provisions partners.

As Grass Valley Provisions’ chief legal counsel, Brady is a local business attorney who has represented investors in legal matters related to the cannabis industry since 2014.

He said the ownership group will be full-time operators.

“We already have plans in place to transition from current obligations, and scaling back my private practice to commit a majority of time to GVP,” Brady said, adding later: “Every member of the team has a history of serving on community advisory boards, advocating on behalf of local organizations or contributing to in-kind organizations.”

Other dispensary cannabis applicants include Canary and KannaXpress, Inc., which would operate on a delivery basis; Perfect Union, location pending; Grupo Flor, which intends to lease space at 800 S. Auburn St.; Culture Cannabis Club, which also lists 800 S. Auburn St.; and Element 7, which does not have a location yet, according to Abigail Walker, analyst with the city’s Community Development Department.

Any new cannabis business must be located in one of two permitted zones: either M1, near La Bar Meadows and McKnight Way; and the C3 zone along South Auburn Street, Railroad Avenue and the Idaho Maryland Road area.

Thirteen total applications are being screened by city staff.

“It’s to make sure there’s no red flags,” said Tom Last, community development director. “The finance department will review applications to make sure the budget numbers make sense. And the police department will make a review and then turn it over to the committee.”

SELECTION COMMITTEE

The selection committee to score and rank the applications was selected by the City Council. The committee is comprised of former Mayor Lisa Swarthout; Marty Lombardi, a director of the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Fund; and Jonathan Collier, a board adviser on the Yuba Village Building Concern and formerly part of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance.

In a public comment call, Diana Gamzon, executive director of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, said three members is a small number. Her group would like to see Amy Wolfson, who requested to leave the committee, be replaced by a fourth member. However, a five-member committee would be more well rounded.

“We’d like to see what’s the next step, what’s the timeline and what is the revenue brought in by the application process,” she said.

Scoring criteria is based upon numerous aspects, including cannabis knowledge, the ownership team, whether the business provides well paid and high quality jobs, and business experience of the companies’ owners, along with other criteria.

The current staff screening, police and finance review is expected to require 30 days. Once applications are turned over to the committee, it will need 30 to 45 days to score and rank them. Staff will then take a couple of days to notify both successful and unsuccessful applicants.

Other types of cannabis businesses allowed include one delivery operation, which has two applicants; two nurseries, with two applicants; five distribution centers, with two applicants, two testing labs, with no applicants; and 10 manufacturing sites, with no applicants.

Applications closed with the Aug. 12 deadline. However, that could change for categories with no applicants.

“Since there’s currently no applicants and we haven’t reached the limits if somebody applied tomorrow (and passed the review), they could probably succeed in getting permitted,” Last said.

When cannabis businesses open to the public depends whether they elect to construct a new building or go with an existing building.

“If they start with a new building, it’ll take several months longer because of submitting site plans, grading, sewer and water trenches,” he added.

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com

Release: Authorities investigate marijuana grows for environmental crimes

 

From a press release:

On Tuesday, The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit, along with Nevada County Cannabis Compliance, California State Water Resource Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Cal Fire and California State Parks, executed several marijuana search warrants.

Over the past several months the Sheriff’s Office has been investigating numerous marijuana cultivation sites that appear to have severe negative environment impacts, including dangers to public waterways and fish and wildlife.

During the search warrant executions, authorities targeted two locations in the 18000 block of Gaston Road — one in the 21000 block of Erin Pace and the other in the 21000 block of Highway 49. During the investigations, dozens of water code, and fish and game code, violations were noted, including discharging waste into waterways, negligent waste discharge requirements, oil and/or petroleum discharge into waterways, illegal water theft/diversion from a public waterway, trash and debris introduced into waterways, and marijuana cultivation within 100 yards of a Class 1 stream.

Both Erin Place and the Highway 49 locations bordered the Wolf Creek Class 1 stream. Detectives located three water pumps that were taking water from the stream and feeding large water storage tanks that were used for watering the marijuana gardens. Erin Place had a gas-powered water pump with a 2-inch water hose running from the creek to a storage tank approximately 200 yards away. The water pump, along with four gas containers, were within several feet of the stream. There was also a burnt pickup truck which had caught fire within several yards of the creek.

Dozens of yards of topsoil, along with numerous open containers of hazardous fertilizers, were also located within close proximity of watersheds, posing a real pollution threat to the public water come the winter rainfall season or any excessive water runoff. All of the locations contained fire hazards with unsafe electrical practices, including running generators, exposed electrical cords on top of dry weeds and pine needles, and open gas cans.

Detectives contacted approximately 12 people at the gardens who were all in violation by not obtaining the proper permits to conduct such large operations. One of the gardens had a constant running water hose, wasting water at a time of severe drought.

At the conclusion of the operation, over 5,000 marijuana plants were eradicated and over 30 felony violations were identified. Four criminal cases will be filed with the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office, along with the state water board and Fish and Wildlife, once the investigation is complete.

Sheriff Shannan Moon is committed to identifying egregious marijuana grows that present serious environmental concerns and a danger to the community. There is a pathway for permitted and legal marijuana cultivation through the Nevada County Community Development Agency. Harm to the watershed and environment will be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately.

Source: Nevada County Sheriff’s Office

High cost of business: Small-plot cannabis grower struggles to prevail

Nevada County cannabis grower Daniel Fink, owner/operator of Down Om Farms on the San Juan Ridge, operates one of the few legal farms in Nevada County. By being a small farm with no employees, Fink is able to keep costs down in an increasingly difficult industry to succeed in.
Photo: Elias Funez

Despite being legal in many states, marijuana presents a classic David-versus-Goliath case for many Nevada County growers who plowed into the industry after the county in May 2019 approved rules for the crop.

Daniel Fink, an organic farmer in North San Juan, was the 12th permitted cannabis business in the county. Under the county’s regulations for a micro-grower with a 5- to 10-acre farm, he is allowed a 2,500-square-foot canopy of cannabis. His grow consists of 1/16 of an acre — equal to about one half of a basketball court.

“I’m the first person in the family to farm — my family were teachers and scientists,” said Fink. “But under the new ordinance, there is a new paradigm open to cultivators, distributors and dispensaries. But cultivators no longer have direct access to consumers. As you go up the commercial food chain of cannabis, taxation is added, which reduces profit to the cultivator, yet the price to the consumer goes up.”

Fink is one of the few local, permitted growers, according to a recent Nevada County Civil Grand Jury report. In that report, the grand jury stated that of the many cannabis cultivators in the area, only 3% were permitted, meaning an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 growers are out of compliance.

Nevada County legal cannabis farmer Daniel Fink tends to his Sherbert Crasher strain, which will be harvested and available in nearby dispensaries within the next few weeks.
Photo: Elias Funez

A key recommendation of the grand jury was to streamline the process — which would lower the high cost of entry into the market— and persuade many illegal growers to come into compliance.

REGULATIONS

Diana Gamzon, executive director of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, said the probability of a cannabis farmer succeeding in a volatile market are stacked against a small-scale grower. Becoming a regulated cannabis farm is different from launching a traditional crop farm, because cannabis farms are regulated as commercial enterprises and not agricultural ones.

“On top of the costly commercial regulations, cannabis farms do not have affordable options for crop insurance and cultivators do not qualify for traditional banking loans due to federal prohibitions,” she said. “Aspiring cannabis farmers need to have a solid business plan, a financial proforma (financial reports based on hypothetical scenarios that use financial projections), and the wherewithal to understand the complexities of the highly regulated, competitive and uncertain cannabis market.”

Despite all the variables, Gamzon praised the county’s nearly 250 small, independent cannabis farms that have either received a permit or are in the process. Cannabis tax revenue has already surpassed nearly $280,000 for this year.

Daniel Fink, a member of the local Grass Valley Growers’ cannabis farming community, shows off his raised soil beds at his farm, Down Om Farms, on the San Juan Ridge.
Photo: Elias Funez

Early under Proposition 64, nobody was allowed more than 1 acre or multiple 1-acre permits, said Fink. But that acreage cap was soon struck down and numerous corporate-scale farms were set up in Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, the Central Valley, Lake County and Humboldt County.

“But we are not regulated as farms but as commercial businesses operating in rural areas that require commercial road access and commercial building permits,” Fink said.

What that means is, for a tiny farm such as his, it can be upward of $100,000 to put in a commercial building, as well as a septic tank, and thousands of gallons of fire suppression water storage. Meanwhile, commercial road access can wind up requiring a road 20-feet wide. That means there’s a limit to many micro-farmers’ viability to operate as a business.

COUNTY RESPONSE

Jeff Merriman, Nevada County Code and Cannabis Compliance Division program manager, disputes some of Fink’s assertions. He noted after a review of Fink’s project there is no requirement for a septic tank. That is usually a requirement when an applicant is proposing to have employees on site as part of the commercial operation. And he explained why there was a need for water storage.

“Water storage is required for all commercial structures not served by a municipal water system,” said Merriman. “The purpose of storage is to ensure there is enough water available to suppress and defend the structures on the parcel.”

Concerning building costs, Merriman said overall costs depend on what each applicant proposes. He also pointed out fire is a major concern in the county and the local fire authority requires commercial projects meet commercial standards. And he added it is to assure the safety of the community and the applicant.

“Construction costs are up 200% from a few years ago,” he said. “So that has an impact on construction costs as well. We follow state building code and do not have any special requirements outside of what is required by the state.”

Fink’s concern of a suitable access road was explained as necessary not only for typical access but also for emergency vehicle ingress and egress, to allow fire trucks proper clearance to access a specific parcel in the event of a fire, Merriman said. He recommended applicants take advantage of the county’s planning consultation service for anybody thinking of going through the cannabis permitting process.

“This allows applicants to bring in their proposed project and receive feedback on requirements and potential costs,” Merriman said. “This is something that should be more utilized as it gives applicants a clearer picture of expectations. We are always here to answer questions and help applicants get through the process as quickly as possible.”

‘TURBULENT MARKET’

Fink arrived in Nevada County from upstate New York via Lake County, where he operated as a medical cannabis cultivator under Proposition 215, passed in 1996. For the past 10 years his farm has operated as a no-till, regenerative and sustainable method of operation.

San Juan Ridge cannabis grower Daniel Fink, shows off his garden that grows many varieties of fruits and vegetables next to his two greenhouses which take up 1/16th of an acre.
Photo: Elias Funez

Regulation overreach is squeezing many micro-farmers, Fink said. Throughout his professional life he was driven by a passion to organically grow a higher grade of medicinal cannabis for people who appreciate it.

“My model is driven by environmental consciousness, not profit,” he said.

Fink expressed a desire for the county to adopt event licenses. These would work similarly to a farmers market, allowing direct consumer access and bringing recognition of Nevada County-branded cannabis, and tax revenue, through tourism.

“Having our own brand out there is a way to maintain our place in a turbulent market,” he said. “Supporting small farmer local brands will make all the difference.”

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com

Nevada County shines spotlight on criminal cultivation

 

Seven different issues comprised a mid-year report before the Board of Supervisors, but it was cannabis that drew the most comment.

Supervisors have been fielding complaints about blatant violations, and those responsible — illegal growers — do not care because the county does not have the manpower to mitigate their activity, Chairman and Supervisor Dan Miller said. The county is overwhelmed by illegal growers coming into neighborhoods such as Sunshine Valley and 6B Ranch Estates, with total disregard for the peace and quiet that residents have enjoyed for over two decades.

“We need to get rid of the bad people,” Miller said. “We have to tweak our zoning if someone wants to put a grow in what’s not an established neighborhood, so let’s go after the growers doing it illegally.”

He then added, “That’s why I support the use of drones, specifically in the areas where we have complaints, but you can’t see it from the public right-of-way — get the evidence and go in.”

What’s causing the most harm is the environmental degradation caused by the illegal grows, Miller said.

“Cannabis is a board priority, but it’s got to the point where maybe a moratorium on new growth permits is in order so we can get a handle on this,” he said.

The county needs to draw the line against those coming from outside the area and doing whatever they want, regardless of the health and safety of residents, Miller said.

“That’s totally inconsiderate, just wrong,” he said. “And I’ll do everything I can to take away those (illegal) grows from the neighborhoods being affected.”

COMPLAINTS

Diana Gamzon, executive director of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, acknowledged the complaints.

“All what the board is saying is real — egregious growers have a significant impact on our neighborhoods,” she said.

Kathryn Madison is a resident of Sunshine Valley. She said that while one illegal cannabis farm is a water problem, 3,500 illegal grows — a Civil Grand Jury estimate — is a water crisis.

“Water is being sucked up for illegal pot farms out of my well, they’re stealing water,“ she said. ”It’s happening in Shasta County and down in the (Central) Valley. This has to change today.”

Madison also said a code compliance officer visited one of her neighbors who has an illegal grow. That grower removed his greenhouse when requested, but retained his plants.

“We need to look one or two years down the road, when 3,500 illegal grows are 5,000 or 6,000,” Madison said. “This is a crisis. And this chamber will be full of Nevada County residents who no longer have water. You do not want to be at that meeting.”

Patricia Holton, another Sunshine valley resident, said she lives across from an illegal grower.

She said this grower has planted 100 trees as a barrier to cover his illegal cultivation. “I think illegal cannabis needs to stop and I think the drone option needs to happen,” she told the board.

Holton added that she checked with the county, and her neighbor has no permit. However, Holton said he intends to grow cannabis again next spring.

“I think if he was already doing an illegal grow, why should he ever get a permit?” she asked. “That’s not right, even if he pays for a permit. If you do it illegally the first time, you should never be allowed again.”

Paul Mallett, another Sunshine Valley resident, said the area isn’t compatible with cannabis cultivation.

“If the county could do something to make these types of areas where they aren’t compatible, allow the homeowners association a say before they give a permit,” Mallett said. “Then maybe that could be considered.”

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com

Grass Valley Council moves forward with cannabis business permitting

The Grass Valley City Council is moving forward with new cannabis rules, which could lead to the city’s first, and only, dispensary.

Community Development Director Tom Last said during this week’s council meeting that reviewing the application and permitting process for commercial cannabis will help local businesses gain legitimacy after Measure N — a marijuana business tax — was adopted in November by voters.

Last said that passing the measure approved six different types of licenses. Each license type is capped at a certain number — one commercial dispensary, one permit for delivery only services, two testing lab permits, 10 manufacturing and processing permits, two nursery permits and five distribution permits.

The council will use a two-step application process, and is considering a 90-day window to procure necessary documents.

Last calculated the application fee: $4,632.41, proposed with the intent to recoup the city’s time and resources spent on the process. Once approved, the applicant will pay an additional $2,137.60 for the formal permit.

Applications will be reviewed by city staff to ensure all necessary documents are attached, Last said, before passing it on to the Commercial Cannabis Committee.

The committee will rank and score the application based off a point system that considers the provided information as well as answers to application questions.

Last said although the tax measure and the council’s permit process review is meant to create access points, the city has a high barrier to legal cannabis ventures.

“We’’re only allowing one dispensary,” Last explained. “So if we have 10 applications come in, the one the committee approves is the only one that can apply for the formal permit and state licensing, and go through the city final permitting process.”

Last said he does not expect permitting demands to exceed the available supply.

“We’re going to assume we’re going to get 10 applications this year,” Last said, adding that Measure N’s true impact will be better assessed long term.

Last said the model follows after those in other jurisdictions, including Nevada City.

Last’s department does not yet have estimates for how much tax revenue will be generated by these new, approved businesses.

According to its website, the city will post all final application materials and application submission deadline information, pending final fee schedule approval May 11.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com.

The cost of medicine: Nevada County Cannabis Alliance offers relief through local supply chain

Vials filled with cannabis extract are placed in a tray, ready to be packaged and sold.
Photo: Elias Funez
Casey Lennon of Emerald Bay Extracts, based out of Nevada City, stands in a room containing finished and packaged product.
Photo: Elias Funez
Emerald Bay Extracts’ workers show a bin of cannabis after it has been processed and the cannabinoids extracted last month at their Nevada City laboratory.
Photo: Elias Funez
Some of Emerald Bay Extracts’ full spectrum cannabis extracts are made specifically for certain dispensaries.
Photo: Elias Funez
Casey Lennon of Emerald Bay Extracts talks shop at their Nevada City lab last month.
Photo: Elias Funez
Lab workers at Emerald Bay Extracts work on filling vials with full spectrum cannabis oil extracted through the lab’s processes.
Photo: Elias Funez
Emerald Bay Extracts workers show off the extraction process required to pull the cannabinoids from the plant.
Photo: Elias Funez
Katrina Cable, consumer products manager at Emerald Bay Extracts, works on filling vials with cannabis extract last month at the company’s Nevada City laboratory.
Photo: Elias Funez
Casey Lennon of Emerald Bay Extracts.
Photo: Elias Funez

The Nevada County Cannabis Alliance has launched a Compassion Care program to provide accessible, plant-based medicine — in the form of full spectrum CBD cannabis products — to critically ill patients in the area.

“This program is the first in the country where we are — within our association, within our local supply chain — bringing medicine that has been cultivated here in Nevada County, manufactured in Nevada County, distributed and tested here,” said Diana Gamzon, the executive director of the alliance. “Then, it has to go through the local retailer to provide medicine to those in the community. That is historic in and of itself.”

Gamzon said providing accessible, plant-based medicine has been a priority of cannabis cultivators and the Nevada County Board of Supervisors since the 2016 defeat of Measure W — which, if passed, would have severely restricted grows. The passage of Senate Bill 34 — the Compassion Bill — in 2019 provided the policy necessary to give legally.

Wade Laughter is a medical cannabis educator who started House of Harlequin. Laughter said since legalization, cannabis product is taxed heavily throughout its cultivation, production and distribution process.

“It allows product to move through the supply chain tax free,“ Laughter said of Senate Bill 34.

Laughter said, normally, growers pay a cultivation tax for all products — flower or trim — directly to the state. Additionally, consumers pay an excise tax at retailers.

“If I wanted to donate a pound of flower before SB 34, I would have to forgo the cost of the flower, but I would have had to pay $130 per pound,” Laughter said. “The consumer has no idea the amount of tax at the retail outlet, they just pay for it.”

Laughter said Prop 215 allowed cannabis distributors to operate as collectives, which helped industry entities provide medicine to members on a sliding scale.

“They were private membership-based organizations that were allowed to cultivate and distribute cannabis among themselves,” Laughter said.

Laughter said when Prop 64 passed and legalized marijuana’s recreational usage in 2016, the state legislation actually outlawed the previous collective model.

“Now there were rules and regulations in place, it shut the door on all of the old operators,” Laughter said, adding that members of Nevada County’s own Caladrius Network suffered the consequences of legalization.

POLITICS OF PLANTS

The Caladrius Network was started by Forrest Hurd, an unlikely cannabis advocate and father. Hurd’s son, Silas, is a 13 year old with intractable epilepsy caused by the Lennox-Gestault syndrome.

“The reality was that I’m not a cannabis person at all,” Hurd said, “but the only people who helped me and ended up saving my son’s life were being demonized (pre-legalization).”

When Silas was 6 years old, doctors predicted he would not live longer than a decade, Hurd said.

“Now, he’s taking the same medicine he was taking when we almost lost the fight against Measure W,” Hurd said, adding, “and he’s not only alive, but he’s thriving.”

Hurd said the Caladrius Network relied on the generosity of CBD-oriented cultivators like Laughter, but the product’s processing and distribution was largely a one-man show.

“I was working for free, 100% volunteer basis, while taking care of a high level need kid 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Hurd said. In addition to critical patient outreach, Hurd helped draft the compassion legislation initially vetoed by former Gov. Jerry Brown and passed by current Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Hurd said he helped distribute $1.2 million in medicine to approximately 50 families between the passage of Prop 64 and SB 34.

“The network filled a very important gap during that transition process when there was no legal avenue,” Hurd said.

SUSTAINABLE GIVING

Hurd said he is grateful to see community stakeholders with capacity from the for-profit realm participate in a more sustainable model of giving.

“It shows how genuine and good-natured they are,” Hurd said.

Hurd said the local cannabis industry’s integrity is evident in its continued care for the critically ill, those who helped flip the public’s opinion on cannabis in the Nevada County community.

Gamzon said the cannabis entrepreneurs she advocates for are driven by something far deeper than profit.

“This sort of generosity is what separates the cannabis industry from others,” Gamzon said.

Laughter said Hurd’s network lives on through the Compassion Care program.

“Now, Forrest is able to point the patients that were in his collective to Elevation (2477’), — ’Here’s a similar product we used to give you, now you can get it here,’” Laughter explained.

Hurd did just that on Sunday, he said, when he was approached by a family with a son with uncontrollable seizures.

“They can’t afford the cost of the medicine, it’s still very cost-prohibitive,” Hurd said. “We’ve put them on a list for Caladrius and are getting them the resources they need.”

LOCALIZED RESPONSE

Sebastian Gotla is on the board of the Cannabis Alliance and a licensed farmer of Foothill River Farms.

Gotla said it was ironic and tragic that the founders of the medical cannabis community were shut out after the legalization of recreational use.

“I wanted to try to give back to them to acknowledge the work and dedication they’ve been doing for so long,” Gotla said. “The new rec market is not serving those particular people with particularly formulated medicine. That was the first goal of the compassion program.”

As the Compassion program’s lead on behalf of the alliance, Gotla has focused on the logistics of moving product through the local supply chain — from cultivator to manufacturer, to product testing and labeling and finally, transportation to the retailers.

“The alliance is creating the logistics and supply chain management of local licensees to create a product that members of the Caladrius Network can then obtain at Elevation (2477’) for free,” Gotla said.

Gotla and Gamzon note that Nevada County’s climate is ideal for growing CBD-dominant strains of cannabis.

“Many of those specific strains have been stewarded by some of the local cannabis advocates for a decade-plus here in Nevada County,” Gotla said.

RESEARCH REQUIRED

Casey Lennon, a former Stanford nurse who now owns and operates Emerald Bay Extracts, said her company partners with a farm or group of farmers who are willing to donate the materials.

Lennon said her company not only receives donations but sets aside some of its own profit to package product for recipients of the Compassion Care program.

Lennon said Emerald Bay Extracts was working with a network of established caretakers of children with epilepsy before becoming a crucial component of the alliance’s most recent outreach project.

“For Nevada County, we did a tincture,” Lennon explained. “It’s concentrated oil with no MCT oil or other product in it.”

Lennon said the typical edible has 2 to 5 milligrams of concentrate, but the tincture she distributes is “super concentrated” and medical grade — 850 milligrams.

Lennon said she was working with cancer patients near the Silicon Valley and noticed a lot of them were self-prescribing and purchasing cannabis off the black market to manage their pain.

“There is a huge concentration of people who need the product but don’t need the sugars or the vape,” Lennon said. “That was always the goal with this company.”

Lennon said a lot of scientific nuances of cannabis medicinal treatment remain unknown, but Emerald Bay Extracts researches terpine profiles and collects customer reviews to better understand their product.

“We have cannabanoid receptors in our body and we know that and we know cannabis accepts that,” Lennon said. “Now we need to allow the research to happen and the patient experience to be legitimized.”

Lennon said her team looks at the terpines, or flavor components found in medicinal plant products, and patient experiences to offer informed recommendations.

“A real person we’ve talked to has a child with autism,” Lennon said. “We determine the product’s terpine profile, and recommend specific strains that may help with behavioral issues.”

Lennon said her concern for community health even extends to the agricultural dimension.

“We have a dozen or so farms we continually work with to ensure quality insurance, regenerative growing practices and no pesticides,” Lennon said. “By keeping the group of farmers smaller, we can keep sourcing specific strains.”

Forrest Hurd said he expects a marked uptick in interest now that this affordable channel has opened.

“The families in need aren’t necessarily cannabis people,” Hurd said. “They’re just scared and worried about their kids — which shows all the more need for nonprofit support.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com.

 

Cannabis farming seminar presented via Zoom

A mid-day legal seminar on cannabis agriculture will be presented via Zoom by attorney Heather Burke from noon to 1 p.m. on Feb. 16. Sponsored by the Nevada County Superior Court’s Law Library, the seminar is open to the public and local attorneys. There will be a $15 registration fee.

As cannabis quickly becomes normalized in our community, local, state, federal and international approaches to cannabis farming are shifting, often in exciting and dramatic ways. Burke will be presenting on the current laws affecting cannabis farming, such as regional branding and cannabis appellations, the Williamson Act and Right to Farm ordinances, and the importance of the United Nations’ recent vote to remove cannabis from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The presentation will also discuss alternative cultivation methods such as “organic” or “regenerative.” Although many of the legal principles apply to cannabis activity generally, Burke’s presentation will focus on the intersection between cannabis cultivation and traditional agriculture.

Burke is a partner of Origin Group Law LLP in Nevada City, where her practice focuses on legal issues affecting northern California cultivators. She co-founded The OG Law and Collaboration Center in Nevada City, a community collaboration center designed to support cannabis farmers throughout northern California.

To enroll, call 530-362-5329 or email Law.Library@nccourt.net. Please send check for $15, payable to Nevada County Law Library, to 201 Church Street, #9, Nevada City, CA 95959. Once the check is received, registration will be confirmed and a Zoom link will be provided. As the Law Library is now alternating monthly seminars with the Nevada County Bar Association, they will no longer offer MCLE credit to attorneys. Only seminars presented by the Bar Association will offer MCLE (https://nevadacountybar.com).

Indoor cannabis cultivation could come to Nevada City

After declaring the dip into dispensaries a success, Nevada City is looking to allow its cannabis industry to expand.

The City Council on Wednesday directed staff to work on an amendment to its cannabis ordinance that would allow indoor commercial cultivation, the next step in what it described as a measured roll out of legalized cannabis.

“I think we can all agree that it’s been very successful,” Councilman Doug Fleming said of the approach. “It was a phased approach. We were taking baby steps initially.”

According to Fleming, the industry’s positive impact as a revenue driver for the city proves the expansion is warranted.

Last year sales tax revenue reached $590,000, and the city expects $540,000 more this fiscal year.

Fleming estimated the city’s revenue from allowing just one small cultivation site could be around $70,000.

He said in addition to taxes on other license types already approved by the city, like manufacturing, processing and distribution, revenue would be in the millions.

“It’s something we can’t take lightly, but have to manage effectively,“ Fleming said.

While the council’s agenda allowed it to consider allowing other uses, such as outdoor grows, council members were unanimously against it.

As Nevada City looks to expand cannabis businesses, Grass Valley is creating a process to determine which business will be permitted for the city’s first dispensary, after removing its prohibition last year.

“We’ve done a really good job with our marijuana industry here, right now we are the only ones in the county,” Nevada City Mayor Erin Minett said.

“I’d like to see us move forward for the health of Nevada City also, because at some point Grass Valley will finish getting their stuff together and start opening up their own.”

Edited 1/18: This article has been updated to correct which cannabis businesses are allowed in Nevada City.

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

Our View: The direction we’ll grow

Pick your favorite pot cliché and insert it here.

It’s high time we did something about this. We’re really in the weeds with this one. This is some dank business.

Regardless of your personal feelings on the issue, it’s obvious our county has moved beyond a discussion of whether we should have legal pot. It’s here. You can buy it from the store, and, unfortunately, from unregulated and untaxed sources.

We’re now at the stage where we must decide what directions this industry should go in our county.

Our local governments are looking at two paths right now.

One, in Nevada City, could lead to indoor, commercial cultivation and more types of businesses.

The other is a permanent ban on industrial hemp production.

The first — added cannabis businesses for Nevada City — appears like a no brainer for the town. Its cannabis tax revenue almost doubled expectations, bringing in around $600,000. Only $310,000 was expected.

Perhaps the most visible of those existing businesses, Elevation 2477’, is an example of how to do things right. It’s a stable business that brings jobs here, serves its product according to state rules and appears to create little to no problems for the community.

The question is now whether to allow other types of cannabis businesses.

It makes sense to allow the expansion of related businesses. The town started small, first allowing a medicinal only dispensary before green lighting recreational. It’s taken baby steps, seen how the businesses operated over several months, and now it’s time for the next move.

No doubt Nevada City is eyeing Grass Valley’s cannabis tax measure, which passed in November. The next obvious step for Grass Valley is luring cannabis businesses to its borders, and siphoning some of the tax dollars Nevada City has reaped.

This, in turn, means more competition among businesses, which should translate into better prices for consumers.

Adding new cannabis businesses is just one path we’re walking. The other, decided in a Tuesday vote by the Board of Supervisors, is the second.

A permanent ban on local hemp production is a smart move, for several reasons.

We’re just dipping our toes into a legal cannabis industry. Our statewide votes in 2016 legalized that industry, and our supervisors have created rules for it locally. Tackling an entirely new industry at this time is premature, as we haven’t yet figured out the first one yet. Why potentially damage that work by adding hemp to the mix? After all, the state hasn’t completed making its own regulations for hemp.

Additionally, cross-pollination is a serious concern. If allowed, it would destroy entire crops and very likely bankrupt the emerging legal cannabis industry.

A bigger concern is the economic impact, or lack of it, that hemp likely brings. Its production would need to be on a massive scale to be worth it. That’s not viable in regulation heavy California, and the smell — it’s got the same scent as regular pot — would be increased because so much of the plant would be required to turn a profit.

Another reason to avoid hemp cultivation locally — “hot hemp,” or hemp that tests positive for THC. That acronym is what gets people high. There aren’t enough regulations for hemp cultivation, and some growers could sneak THC into their hemp crop.

We’ve been through a lot when it comes to cannabis. A divisive campaign over Proposition 64, which legalized it. That was followed by clashes between supervisors and advocates, and then an interminable series of community advisory group meetings to flesh out our local pot rules.

It took some three years to get us to this point. The small steps we’re taking now will prove to be the right moves years down the road.

If we do this right, we’ll leave the cliches behind us, and turn the local cannabis industry into the economic engine it has the potential to become.

And then we’ll watch it grow.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com