It seems that what Plumas growers couldn’t get approved during their working group days they are now pitching via Measure B, a commercial cannabis fantasyland with anything that local cannabis proponents could ever want. Tally the potential licenses within Plumas and we may see 70 for cultivation and 112 for non-cultivation businesses. There are no limits on “Type 9” retailer licenses, so who can say how many will be granted?
How many licenses?
Measure B permits 11 kinds of growing licenses in varying sizes, indoor and outdoor, with varied amounts of outdoor lighting. There are four kinds of manufacturing, processing, or testing licenses. There are five kinds of storefront and non-storefront retailers, dispensaries, or grower self-distribution licenses permitted. A micro-business (Type 12) license type covers cultivators of under 10,000 square feet of plants as a combination grower-manufacturer-distributor-retailer operation.
Each Plumas supervisor’s district will permit four of these for a total of 20. There’s even a license reserved for a Public Event Organizer. All licenses are permanently renewable and can be transferred to family heirs. Local cannabis businesses have first dibs to tie up any/all of them. Are local business plans already built, ready for activation upon Measure B’s passage?
Cultivator licenses fall into three categories: Type I, under 5,000 square feet; Type II, 5 to 10,000 square feet; and Type III, 10,000 to 43,560 square feet (one acre). Licenses are limited to 50 in Classes I, II, or III, plus 20 for micro-businesses of less than 10,000 square feet. Other license limits called for are six retail dispensaries—two for testing, eight for distribution—and 10 for processing.
This assortment is anything but simple, and the county’s recently distributed impact report for its costs is not encouraging. The report indicates that cannabis license and tax revenue will not cover increased county expenses. This is consistent with other rural jurisdictions’ experience. It would require a rapid adjustment in a few county offices to an as yet unknown workload, slowing regular processing of the public’s business. The Planning Commission workload would drop if Measure B passed, because all public deliberation for commercial cannabis regulation would cease.
While Measure B’s creators insist no environmental impact study would be necessary under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), I beg to differ.
This is a major land use and zoning change the state will not abide, and if I’m right, consider that the county pays for all analysis work—not the growers. I had to pay for an Environmental Impact Report to subdivide a 2.51-acre parcel zoned 7R in East Quincy to create five residential lots where all utilities already existed. Surely these commercial cannabis business expansions should require an equivalent review.
Rolling in dough?
According to Measure B, in addition to collection of initial license fees, Plumas County would collect two percent initially (and six percent eventually) on the net profits of cannabis businesses. How does a county assess such taxes on a business conducted totally in cash? What third party could examine sales revenue minus expenses to arrive at net profit? It might be possible for expenses to be proven, but claimed revenue is impossible to verify—could the county rely on grower claims of their sales?
It would be the same situation with distributing, retailing, and other licensed cannabis businesses—there’s no way to verify grower/seller claims. No one can pinpoint revenue and expenses. Hiring unlimited numbers of county employees to perform audits on these transactions would still not solve this fundamental problem. Until formal banking services are legally available and “underground” sales are stopped, accurate tax collection—based on third-party verification of financial transactions—is a fantasy.
The City of Sacramento permits commercial cannabis businesses and found that only 60 percent of their licensees were paying taxes at all.
Legal DEFENSE, anyone?
Perhaps Measure B’s greatest risk is its “priority resident” licensing. It prohibits non-resident business operators from obtaining licenses for two years and gives residents who have been in Plumas for two years priority, which means local cannabis business operators can snap up all the licenses and effectively box out non-residents. If you’ve heard of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, you may be familiar with the clause containing the phrase, “equal protection under the laws.”
The Encyclopaedia Britannica’s description of the equal protection provided by the Fourteenth Amendment is “the constitutional guarantee that no person or group will be denied the protection under the law that is enjoyed by similar persons or groups. In other words, persons similarly situated must be similarly treated. Equal protection is extended when the rules of law are applied equally in all like cases and when persons are exempt from obligations greater than those imposed upon others in like circumstances.”
Measure B’s priority residents stipulation is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Does anyone think that major cannabis players on the outside who want in won’t sue over this unconstitutional exclusion of businesses from outside Plumas County?
If this happens, who is the defendant? Plumas County. Who pays for that defense? Plumas County. More accurately, it is we taxpayers who would be on the hook for that defense. Were Measure B’s authors ignorant about such a challenge or were they simply hopeful? Either way, they’ve put the rest of us in the financial crosshairs and under suspense for an unknown period.
Don’t want to go to court? Then say NO to Measure B and help turn back commercial cannabis. Keep this issue of public importance where it can be hammered out with careful deliberation—at the Planning Commission. By bringing more brains to bear on this issue, we can avoid defending an unconstitutional ballot initiative serving the few while not protecting the many.
Please help turn back Measure B and any other commercial cannabis initiative. Everyone has equal access to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors deliberations. No one who wants or needs access to cannabis is being denied it nor will be in the future. The moratorium provides time to allow this issue to be considered by all of us in the formation of an ordinance that has staying power without legal vulnerability.
If passed, Measure B’s provisions become local regulation that can’t be fine-tuned by anyone in the future, whether needed or not. Let’s not let that mistake happen.