Nevada County says most illegal growers could become legit
Probability illegal grows can convert to legal cannabis
Nevada County officials say many of the 3,500-plus cannabis growers operating in the shadows could qualify to become legal.
“The majority of them would likely be able to become permitted cultivators, as long as they can meet the basic parcel requirements of our ordinance,” said Jeff Merriman, Code Compliance Division program manager.
Merriman’s office last week reached out to the community in an email, reminding the public of resources available to them.
“As the season moves into harvest, we understand that cannabis may be more visible within the community,” he said. “We want to ensure the community knows who to contact for any questions or concerns.”
A Grand Jury report last spring criticized the estimated 3,500 illegal grows in the county. Only 3% of grows are in compliance. Foreperson David Anderson has said there are a number of obstacles preventing converting illegal grows to permitted ones.
Key among these was that Code Compliance has jurisdiction over cannabis violations, which had only a staff of four with some of them part time. The grand jury recommended that the Sheriff’s Office would be more effective. However, Merriman said that because permitted cannabis is mainly a land use issue, violations fall under the Cannabis Compliance Division.
“We continue to collaborate with the Sheriff’s Office, state and federal law enforcement,” he said. “We pursue the egregious sites that pose imminent threats to public health, safety and the environment.”
The grand jury also recommended placing sheriff’s substations in North San Juan and other remote areas, though that would only happen after enforcement was transferred to the Sheriff’s Office.
A hurdle to becoming a permitted grower are the prerequisites mandated to enter the business, such as providing American with Disabilities Act restrooms and entryways. Merriman said Code Compliance continues to review and make improvements to the permit process to make it as easy as possible to be legitimate.
“However, this is a commercial business and it is held to the same standards as other commercial businesses,” he said. “That includes ADA-compliant restrooms and entrances to buildings in accordance to state and federal regulations.”
The grand jury in its report pointed to the high cost of breaking into cannabis cultivation. Permitting fees can reach up to $85,000, and the process can require four months to complete.
According to Merriman, the fees are the least expensive in the state. Additionally, they are strictly for service, meaning they’re charged for staff time spent reviewing and inspecting during the permitting process.
Pivoting to fines, Anderson said a few growers consider them the cost of doing business. Total fines in Nevada County were $67,000, compared to Humboldt County which had over $3 million in fines.
The grand jury has advised a reevaluation of fines.
It’s also advocated for more reliance on technology, like Humboldt County which has a satellite system. Some counties have turned to drones, including Nevada County. While some county officials cited a concern of invasion of privacy, Merriman said they would be a tool of last resort after all others were tried and unsuccessful.
“This tool will allow staff to maintain a safe distance from the illegal grow while improving the ability to verify outstanding violations,” he said.
By comparison, helicopters cost $900 per hour and require multiple flights to address sites. The drone is a one-time cost and can be flown and returned in a matter of minutes. It is expected to be employed next year.
William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit http://www.nccannabisalliance.org/calendar to preregister for a Thursday webinar about cultivation permits
The first steps toward renovating the site of Grass Valley’s lone cannabis dispensary will come next week.
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