Mendo’s New Pot Program Manager Kelly Overton appeared before the Supes Tuesday. Overton was accompanied by a sidekick from the Ag Department, Chevon Holmes, who introduced herself as “interim program administrator for the cannabis program,” adding that she was “delighted to be here!” “Here” apparently being the Supes Chambers, not necessarily Overton’s newly created pot permit office under County CEO Carmel Angelo.
It looks like Overton is starting to gain a fuller appreciation for how difficult it is to navigate the pot permit application process, both at the County level and with multiple state agencies.
After updating the Board with some slightly better processing statistics, Mr. Overton announced that he will be conducting another "soft launch" of a new and updated “CMCP” (which went unexplained — County of Mendocino Cannabis Program?) page on the county's website by the end of March.
Also "printed instruction and information sheets for submitting ‘Phase One’ are being developed for distribution at events and community meeting places.”
Overton plans to remind applicants of information they need to provide for their application to be properly processed.
"The new application packet may not be smaller,” cautioned Overton, “but it will be more user friendly, more clear and concise.”
Further, the new webpage “is not an easier way, but a clearer way" for how to get a pot permit.
Overton is of course planning more meetings, and more working groups, he’s assembled notebooks, writing e-mails, making phone calls, and, "We are writing down the problems people are having to which there does not seem to be an answer out there."
One sticking point seems to have something to do with a 120 day processing time limit.
"If we have not issued a permit within 120 days of the applicant submitting it to us,” said Overton, “it tends to be kind of a roadblock or Catch-22 where maybe our permit, if they don't have it within 120 days they can't proceed somewhere else. So we are looking for a solution to that.”
Supervisor McCowen replied, “I believe this Board has given direction multiple times that in order to get a permit from Mendocino County if you are required to enroll with the state water board you would enroll with them. If you are required to apply to Fish and Wildlife you would apply to them. If you are receiving a permit issued by Mendocino County it may be contingent on a final action by the Water Board or Fish and Wildlife because as we know they can take even longer than we do to issue a permit. So that's my very strong recollection. We have essentially said enroll with the Water Board, apply to Fish and Wildlife, but if everything else on our checklist is in order we will issue a county permit.”
McCowen seems to want to make sure that if an applicant has a complaint they should take it somewhere else, at least Mendo has done what it can.
Board Chair Dan Hamburg asked, “What happens if a person has the county permit and then they confront a state agency and the agency says, This permit is not valid?”
McCowen: “Our permit would be valid. If they don't get a state permit then we have to revoke ours.”
Overton: “We issue a receipt when there is an application. Once they apply with Fish and Wildlife we have 120 days to issue them a permit from us. But we are not issuing a permit within that 120 days, so that is where we've got a roadblock.”
Holmes tried to clarify: “We should probably unpack this into two different avenues. I think we might be talking about two different things. On the one hand we have a situation where your temporary state license is only valid for 120 days which means when that 120 days expires your next move as a cultivator would be to apply for an annual license. To be eligible for an annual license you need your local permit. So that's where we are talking about a sort of roadblock. If we don't finish the process of issuing the permit within 120 days and a cultivator has already earned the temporary state license they might not have the piece of paper they need after the 120 days to get a state annual license. On the other hand —”
McCowen: “I'm saying we are not going to be the cause of them not having the right piece of paper. If they have complied with our requirements we will issue them a permit, a local permit, even if the Water Board or Fish and Wildlife has not acted. This may be an example of where the Agriculture Department was reading a requirement into this that the board [of Supervisors] was not imposing. I don't want people to have to wait for the state to act. If they satisfied our requirements, which are you will enroll with the Water Board and you will apply to Fish and Wildlife, we are good.”
Holmes: “One of the issues we have come up with is what is meant by ‘enrolled’ with Fish and Wildlife? An applicant submits the notification to Fish and Wildlife but just because you've turned it in that does not mean they have accepted it. They could reject your notification and it would literally be like it never happened. So sometimes the applicants have to go back and forth with Fish and Wildlife before Fish and Wildlife will literally accept their application. That can take some time because they have not presented Fish and Wildlife with enough information. So if the board is giving staff direction to only accept that they submitted, and not confirmed that Fish and Wildlife has accepted— you know? We were operating under the assumption that you want to make sure that they are in that Fish and Wildlife program, not just to accept a document that could be a forgery or something that somebody made up that said they had submitted to Fish and Wildlife.”
McCowen: “Board direction seems to be confirmed that if they have submitted the proper documents to Fish and Wildlife and the Water Board that's good for us. So they could show us I would think proof that they had submitted the appropriate materials to them. And I'm willing to let that one go unless there is some —”
Hamburg: “I think what's she’s saying is that Fish and Wildlife will accept—”
McCowen: “I'm willing to let — I don't know how that works. Maybe we have some information from Fish and Wildlife.”
Another young woman from the CEO’s office who did not introduce herself responded, “For the Department of Food and Agriculture, the statue requires they have to have local authorization. We do have flexibility as to what we consider ‘local authorization.’ Based on prior Board direction what we have been doing is we consider as long we do have an accepted application with the county and you are working proactively on your permitting status when the state contacts us and says this applicant has applied for a state license, we reply back that we have an application for this person and they are in process. While they are in the process we consider them in good standing and they can move forward with the state and we will tell the Department of Food and Agriculture we will contact them if this permit is ultimately denied.”
McCowen: “I'm saying that Board direction is to go a bit beyond that and we are prepared to issue you a permit if you've made the proper applications to the state.”
Deputy CEO: “While they have a temporary license for 120 days then they are required to apply for an annual, but we can be flexible on local authorization. For an annual license as long as they are in the process, then if we did not issue it we would contact them [state Food and Agriculture] and say this person did not receive a permit, you have to revoke the state license. We will have some flexibility in terms of when they apply for the state license.”
Chair Dan Hamburg cut off the conversation at this point saying that they were getting too much into policy issues which should be agendized for separate discussion.
Meanwhile, despite all the County level improvements and reorganization, it’s still pretty much pot confusion as usual.