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Retail pot license issue now before judge

The next step in Grass Valley’s cannabis dispensary appeal process is currently before a judge.

Retired Judge Albert Dover, the hearing officer in the case, currently has a series of written arguments before him. He now must decide whether to hold oral arguments in the case of two businesses that appealed the decision against granting them a permit for a dispensary.

Ultimately, Dover will give a recommendation to the City Council on the appeals. The council can adopt the recommendation, amend it or send it back to Dover for more work. The recommendation will be presented during an open session of the council, allowing for public comment, City Attorney Michael Colantuono said.



Colantuono could not provide an exact timeline of when the issue would reach the council, adding it would probably be a matter of weeks, not months.

“When the council makes the final decision, if the appellants remain unhappy, they can sue the city,” he said.



ARGUMENTS

In a second attempt to make their case, two separate appellants filed reply briefs to argue their point for a second retail cannabis dispensary license.

Grass Valley has allowed only one retail license.

The first appeal, arriving Friday from Sierra Flower Co. LLC, cited a violation of due process, claiming a majority of the committee that made the decision on the permit was negligent. Then, on Saturday, NUG Inc., doing business as NUG Grass Valley, submitted its appeal, maintaining the city showed bias.

Attorney Stephen Ramazzini, representing NUG, said in the reply brief, “There are constitutional laws and court cases that make such local preferences likely impermissible. Is this not the very definition of bias? Of course it is.”

Ramazzini added what selection committee member Marty Lombardi noted in his written statement — that he liked the presentations for the out-of-area businesses, then added, “There are significant drawbacks to awarding a license to these outside the area entities … Money most likely will not stay local, no inducement to use local cultivators and product providers … the foregoing lends itself, to me navigating to candidates with local roots, whose presentations/experience may not be as deep or sophisticated,” according to NUG’s’s opening brief.

Sierra Flower’s attorney, Arianna Van Alstine contended the retail cannabis application process was fraught from the start. The selection committee was uncomfortable with the decision-making process and found the process negligent. Sierra was inaccurately scored and the scores were incorrectly figured.

“The application process was so problematic that one reviewer resigned,” said Van Alstine. “Of the three remaining, one was uncomfortable with the process, and one referred to the process as negligent.”

The Sierra reply brief also argues individual scoring inaccuracies and the city influenced a convoluted combination of scores to establish that Provisions, the winning candidate, scored the highest combination of any two reviewers.

“The problem with the scoring is that reviewers deducted points that Sierra objectively earned,” said Van Alstine. “The city argues the scoring cannot be reviewed under substantial evidence. But it is the inaccurate scoring that allowed Provisions to be the single applicant to apply for a retail permit, creating a local monopoly on retail and preventing healthy competition.”

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

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