After months of research and consulting with county department heads, Colusa County Supervisors John Loudon and Kent Boes – both members of the county’s ad-hoc committee tasked with exploring the prospect of commercial cannabis – reported their findings to the balance of the board during last week’s meeting.
“Our objective, as the ad-hoc committee, we wanted to research the different types of licenses that the cannabis industry would be issuing… We also wanted to identify the impacts – that is, internal impacts if we chose to permit or allow any of the different license types – and also impacts that are going to happen to us regardless of what we decide to do, because of what our neighbors are doing,” Boes said.
During the presentation, Boes broke down the various licenses associated with the commercial cannabis industry into different types: cultivation, manufacturing, testing laboratories, distribution, and retail, and described the potential impacts on the county for each.
Four members of the public spoke during public comment, including Ed Hulbert, Chris Cota and Marco Guizar, who each hope to bring some sort of commercial cannabis business to the county. Cota, of Princeton, said he wants build a 10-acre cultivation facility off of Myers Road. Guizar, a former Grimes resident, said he is considering moving back to the county to take advantage of the opportunities commercial cannabis presents. Hulbert, CEO of Colusa Industrial Properties, said a nursery operation is proposing to operate a facility in the Colusa Industrial Park. Each asked the board to consider approving a regulated commercial cannabis ordinance.
At the conclusion of the presentation, the board reaffirmed their slow, patient approach to the burgeoning industry.
“I would like to chew on this until our next meeting,” Board Chair Gary Evans said. “I instructed the ad-hoc committee to move forward very, very diligently. I’m a firm believer in slower is always faster at the end of the day, when we move in a very methodical way.”
based on license type
Boes said that there were four broad licensing groups for cultivation: outdoor, indoor, mixed-light, and nurseries. Those groups are further broken down into licenses based on size, Boes said: Specialty licenses, which are up to 5,000 sq. ft. for both indoor and outdoor, and up to 50 mature plants; Small, which is up to 10,000 sq. ft. for both indoor and outdoor; Medium, which is up to 22,000 sq. ft for indoor and an acre for outdoor; Large, for cultivation operations over 22,000 sq. ft. (indoor) or one acre (outdoor).
“(Medium) is the largest you can have under current law,” Boes said. “Large licenses won’t be issued for five years. I believe in 2023 they will issue the first large-type licenses.”
Boes said that there was also a specialty cottage license, which he described as a boutique type license, which is for up to 2,500 sq. ft. of canopy size, and 25 mature plants for outdoor, and 500 sq. ft. for indoor.
Among the county departments that would be most affected by cultivation are the County’s Agriculture Department and the Sheriff’s Office, Boes said. The Agriculture Department anticipated it would see an increase in their workload for issuing the various license types, field inspections, investigations, and other related responsibilities, Boes said. Potential impacts related to cultivation include issues relating to pesticide use, cross-contamination between hemp and cannabis crops, increased weight and measurement complaints and investigations, nuisance odors, an increase in air traffic at the Colusa Airport, and significant increases in traffic on county roads.
Boes said that nursery impacts would be minimal.
Minimal impacts from testing, manufacturing licenses
Boes said that the internal impacts for issuing manufacturing licenses would be minimal, but did have the potential to significantly increase traffic on county roads, depending on the size and location of the operation. He said that the same was true of testing facilities.
Biggest impacts, both positive and negative, come from issuance of retail licenses
Should it decide to issue them, retail licenses would have the highest impact on the county internally, Boes said. Department heads anticipate that retail commercial cannabis operations are likely to have a high impact on traffic, and have the greatest potential impact on local law enforcement. On the other side of the coin, retail sites also have the potential for the greatest increase in general fund revenues, Boes said.
“(Traffic for retail) is up to 400 trips per day, per 1,000 sq. ft.,” Boes said. “If you have a 10,000 sq. ft. facility, we’re talking 4,000 daily trips – that’s a lot of traffic.”
Boes said those numbers were generated by Public Works Director Scott Lanphier, who said that while there wasn’t a lot of accurate traffic information available, he estimated that the traffic generated would be something comparable to a Starbucks. The comparison drew some laughs from the board.
Boes told the board that because retail operations will have the most cash on hand, typically, that they would be more of a target for crime, and would have the greatest impact of all license types on law enforcement in the county. By the same token, retail licenses also had the greatest potential to increase the county’s general fund revenues through sales taxes and Proposition 218 tax measures.
“If you want to make money off of marijuana, this is where you’re going to do it,” Boes said.
Boes said that the county could limit transportation within the county, but couldn’t limit distribution through the county. The distribution licenses would be valid state-wide, and issued through the county where the distributor is based. Impacts from distribution licenses issued within the county would depend on the size and location of the operation.
Whether or not the county decides to allow any of the commercial cannabis license types, it will still feel impacts from the facilities and businesses being considered for the cities of Colusa and Williams.
Boes said that the county could either see a population influx with the new jobs created by the cannabis industry in the cities, or an increase in the number of commuters. He said that there could be a possible increase in the homeless population, a possible increase in the number of property crimes, a possible increase in law enforcement and judicial activity, and increased code enforcement.
Other external impacts include a possible increase in jobs and a decrease in unemployment. Supervisor Denise Carter said she was concerned about how the new jobs would affect an already limited farm labor supply in the county.
Boes also mentioned a possible increase or decrease in social services, child welfare issues, and an increase in general fund revenue as potential impacts.
A look at neighboring
Supervisor John Loudon offered the board a look at what eight neighboring counties were doing in regards to commercial cannabis licenses and personal cannabis cultivation. Those included Sutter, Yolo, Sacramento, Lake, Yuba, Glenn, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
“Me being a novice with cannabis, I did a lot of reading,” Loudon said. “I pulled everything I could get to find out about the impacts, and everything there is to know about cannabis… What I found is that there are pro-cannabis and con-cannabis publications. Throughout all of it, they all have points, and they all exaggerate both ends of it. I had a hard time picking out what was true and what was false… the only recourse we had was to go to the counties and states that had experience with the product, and what they’re doing… and how they’re approaching cannabis cultivation in their counties.”
As a blanket statement, Loudon said that the counties that had chosen to embrace cannabis cultivation had done so out of necessity, and had each already had an issue with illegal cultivation.
Loudon said that Sutter County was not addressing anything but cultivation, and was issuing licenses for indoor cultivation only. For personal cultivation under Proposition 64, Sutter County is charging registration fee of $140 and an inspection fee of $180.
Loudon said that Sutter County was working on regulations for commercial cultivation, but was not yet addressing any of the other license types.
Loudon said that Yolo County was permitting up to 100 sq. ft. for personal use cultivation, both indoor and outdoor. Yolo County would also be issuing commercial cultivation licenses, and had already received 95 applications, of which more than 60 were already in progress. Loudon said that Yolo County was already seeing a “great deal of pressure on law enforcement.”
Yolo County would be permitting both indoor and outdoor commercial grows, up to a half-acre in size for the former and an acre for the latter. For outdoor grows, a buffer zone is being required around them: a 1-acre grow must be located at the center of a 20-acre plot. Loudon said that it was initially envisioned that another crop would be planted around the cannabis grow, but that growers had instead been taking valuable agriculture land out of production instead. He told the board that Yolo was experiencing problems with a lot of illegal grows, and said that the county had implemented a hefty $1,000 per day penalty to address them. The fine, Loudon said, wasn’t working well.
“Illegal growers just pack up and walk away (without paying the fine),” Loudon said.
Yolo has established a cannabis division within its Agriculture Department, which deals with all of the permitting in the county. He added that manufacturing would not be permitted in Yolo County.
Loudon said that Sacramento County had elected not to allow any license types, but was still experiencing problems with enforcing their cultivation ban and the imposition of fees and fines.
“Sacramento County is similar to Colusa County because cities within the county are embracing commercial cannabis,” Loudon said.
Loudon said that Lake County has a big issue with illegal grows, and disproportionately so in one of its supervisorial districts.
“It’s similar to Humbolt County, where they already had a large presence of marijuana,” Loudon said. “They built infrastructure around it.”
The county implemented fees and fines for commercial cultivation. Fees go directly to code enforcement, while fines go to law enforcement.
Commercial cannabis has been banned, Loudon said, and personal use has been regulated to indoor only.
“They’re adding additional components all the time,” Loudon said.
He told the board that the county was looking at declaring a state of emergency because there are so many illegal grows, and it was putting a significant burden on county departments.
“They’re flopping in the wind,” Loudon said, adding that they had a commercial ban in place, but had neither a CAO nor an ad-hoc committee to address the issue.
Santa Cruz County
With a lot of empty warehouses, Loudon said, the county was trying to embrace the commercial cannabis industry. He said that they had recently started permitting for commercial cultivation. The county is requiring an environmental impact review for cultivation and manufacturing operations. Loudon added that county supervisors and staff seemed excited about what the industry could bring.
The county is allowing indoor cultivation only. With thousands of greenhouses in the county empty, the county was looking to fill them with cannabis cultivation operations, and was excited to do so. The county was estimating nearly $12 million in annual revenues. ■