Nevada County plows path for legal pot
Path for black market pot to go legit
Thousands of cannabis growers potentially could become legal, if a state grant comes through for Nevada County.
A total of $35 million is available in grants from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. The county hopes to access almost $2.4 million of that.
The county’s application is due Dec. 13, and grants would be awarded no later than March 15.
“Generally speaking, we are looking competitive for this grant when talking to and looking at comparable rural communities,” said Building Director Craig Griesbach. “We will not know how likely we will be to receive total requested funds until those funds are officially awarded by the state.”
Nevada County meets grant qualifications, and is applying for a total of $2,395,654 to fund its Cannabis Local Equity Program.
One purpose of the program is to advance economic justice for communities harmed by cannabis prohibition by providing support to the county, as it eliminates barriers to allow entry into the newly permitted cannabis industry.
A May Civil Grand Jury report stated that overcoming the high cost of entry into the permitted market would be a way to persuade illegal growers to abide by compliance rules, as fees can reach up to $85,000. The report estimated between 3,500 and 4,000 growers were non-compliant.
Griesbach said he did not have an estimate of how many cultivators might voluntarily come into compliance with the county’s local program.
“Staff are working internally and also with a professional grant writing firm in an effort to submit a competitive grant application and receive as much of the funding allocation possible for this local program,” said Griesbach.
He also pointed out that Nevada County is one of the few rural counties in the state that has an established equity program.
“So, we’re optimistic about our chances of an award when looking at total available funds at the state level for these programs.”
‘CHALLENGING FOR BUSINESS’
Diana Gamzon, executive director of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, disputes some assumptions regarding those operating outside the regulatory system.
“The estimated number of illegal growers is highly inflated,” she said. “We imagine it is much less, likely closer to 50% of that amount. Due to fluctuating market conditions, it is imperative that funds from the equity program go to ensuring that the 250 cannabis businesses that either have a permit or are in the process have the support they need to succeed in the market. In addition, the funds will go toward assisting individuals who will be entering the market.
“A pathway to compliance does not ensure success in the marketplace,” she added. “The state’s regulatory framework is extremely challenging for business to succeed currently, and anyone entering the regulated cannabis market must have business sensibility and market awareness. At the alliance, our education programs are aimed at compliance assistance, market awareness and business skill training to give farmers the tools to compete.”
Gamzon said the county is a legacy producing cannabis region.
“We have had small farmers cultivating in the surrounding area for decades.”
Daniel Batchelor, co-owner of Nevada County’s only brick-and-mortar cannabis dispensary, has run Elevation 2477’ in Nevada City since January 2019. During that year his shop was in the top 25 for sales tax producers for the city out of 526 business, according to Nevada City records.
Batchelor said he thought the supervisors’ decision to seek the state grant was a good thing.
“It’s great there are resources available for everybody from the state,” he said. “And it’s great minorities and any others affected by the War on Drugs can now be able to receive support from the state.”
Alanna Haley is the CEO of Sierra Flower Co., one of seven cannabis entrepreneurs competing for two available permits to operate a dispensary in Grass Valley. Her business, if approved, would operate out of the former Foothills Events Center.
Haley said she and her partners welcome the idea of the state providing funds to help transition more local farmers into the regulated market.
“This is the kind of program that would assist incredibly crafted local cultivators to complete required grading and road construction projects and building processing facilities,” she said. “This would give local and statewide consumers more options and much needed access to locally grown, small batch cannabis.”
William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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