GRASS VALLEY — Cannabis is an agricultural crop, and as such, there is an entire industry that has sprouted around it from the innovative ideas of people who have been working with this plant for decades.
In spite of some beliefs that cannabis is merely an agricultural activity, a panel of 16 community members discussed how the industry could soon look here in Nevada County.
For more than three hours the Community Advisory Group considered the several different cannabis related activities that could potentially be allowed in Nevada County at its second meeting Tuesday, June 13.
The group discussed whether cultivation, manufacturing, processing, distribution, transportation, delivery services, testing labs and even tasting rooms could be potential license types allowed in the unincorporated areas of the county.
The CAG, as it is now known, is a group of 16 community members picked to develop recommendations for a permanent cannabis cultivation ordinance to the the Board of Supervisors. They will meet six more times before drafting a document county staff can turn into policy by March of 2018.
Daniel Iacafano, one of MIG Inc’s principals — the company county officials hired to conduct the process — again facilitated the discussion.
Iacafano, an expert in the areas of community participation and consensus building, has facilitated projects in the past that have addressed issues such as public transit, housing, economic development, land use and regional growth.
Through a series of exercises, which used an electronic device to record each panel member’s response about how they felt regarding a particular cannabis related activity, Iacafano moved the meeting forward.
“The main substance for our discussion is home-based cannabis related activities. We are working with the interest of the county as a whole in mind, not just your personal interests or opinions,” he reminded the panel at the beginning of the exercise. “This is a test but also a way to begin our conversation.”
Some members of the panel, however, immediately took issue with using the term home-based, citing concerns that for many, cannabis cultivation is done in a farm setting and that the term home-based was perhaps better suited for residents who were cultivating for their own personal use.
There was also a short explanation by Jonathan Collier, board member of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, about the difference between personal and commercial cannabis cultivation versus the difference between recreational and medical use of cannabis.
“Home-based means you are growing in your residential property…we are just talking about the activity itself,” Iacofano said. “Should home-based cannabis activity be allowed?”
The panel responded 38 percent yes, 38 percent was willing to consider it, 19 percent said it should not and 6 percent, or one person, said they didn’t know.
Forrest Hurd, a member of the CAG and patient advocate, said cannabis is a plant that has evolved for its potential medicinal use.
“To say not to allow it without any consideration seems irresponsible to me,” He said.
Many on the panel said they based their “no” answers on the fact that the term home-based was vague and confusing.
“Because of [how vague it is], I said no,” said Don Bessee, another CAG member known in the community for his anti-cannabis stance.
“I pressed A for yes because if we are talking about a rural community with home-based access, it would seem to be a good way to foreclose against the large corporate interests that have expressed interest in coming here,” Deborah Weistar, Cag member and on the board of directors of SYRCL.
After a short discussion on the topic, Iacafano asked the panel to vote again on the same question again to test the methodology of the exercise. During the second round 47 percent voted yes to allow cultivation and 47 percent said they were willing to consider it and only one person voted no.
The exercise went on for some of the license types outlined in state regulations, including manufacturing and processing, delivery and distribution, testing labs home-based sales, tasting rooms and nurseries.
For manufacturing and processing, most panel members said they were willing to consider it, but some expressed concerns about safety issues.
Mark Schaefer, CAG member and on the board of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, explained that manufacturing is a delicate process that needs to be done in light industrial zoning with specific safety measures built into it; but processing, which under state regulations is defined as “all activities associated with drying, curing, grading, trimming, storing, packaging, and labeling of non-manufactured cannabis products” can be done safely in a property where cannabis is cultivated.
Several members of the CAG, who at the first meeting expressed being opposed to commercial activity or had preconceived ideas about cannabis as a medicine, expressed their desire to learn more about the plant and about how other counties and states are treating the cannabis industry.
Sharyn Turner, another CAG panelist who is also a member of the Coalition for a Drug-free Nevada County, was grateful for the education she gained from her fellow panelists who were more educated on the subject.
“I’m really trying to be non-judgmental. I come from a medical background and have a lot of things that I need to learn,” Turner said. “I came here with the idea that even cannabis for medical purposes was…why can’t a pharmacy do that. So I have a lot of baggage to work with, but I’m aware that if something works for something, that’s good.”
Some members of the public, most of whom spoke to favor cannabis-related activities in the county, said they were concerned that the panel members did not have access to information about the industry and that the conversation was driven simply on opinions.
“There is a culture war in our county,” said Wade Laughter, a cultivator and member of The Alliance. “Some of the problems are because of a lack of understanding of what cannabis is.”
Laughter said that over the years he has been involved in virtually all of the cannabis related activities the panel considered and invited the group to contact him or visit his nursery to learn more about the plant and the industry.
Brad Peceimer talked about the economic impact the industry has had in the area over the years. He placed the number at $250 million and said that county agencies, local nonprofits and local issues such as homelessness and affordable housing could be addressed or benefit from fees coming from a regulated industry.
Phillip Northcutt echoed Peceimer’s call for a philanthropic approach to fees generated from the industry.
“We need to give back to the community, some of that money needs to go to agriculture and preventative education for kids,” he said.
Northcutt also said the panel should consider introducing in its recommendations a transition period for cultivators to come into compliance with local rules.
Phil Ritti, a local cannabis business consultant, also called for the panel to educate itself on all aspects of the industry, and to begin doing so by reading state regulations.
“Cannabis is here,” he said. “It has been here and it will be here.”
The next CAG meeting will be held Tuesday June 27 at 2 pm