Now that Measure A passed, some in the cannabis industry are wondering how the permitting process will work. Sonoma County businesses (except dispensaries) can start applying for business permits July 1. I expect the county is using the next few months to come up with the systems needed to process applications. How are you getting ready?
Proof that you are following the best management practices and operating standards will be necessary to get your permit. If you don't understand those, you need to learn them immediately. The county has given growers until Jan. 1, 2018, to either come into compliance with local regulations or cease growing.
As for permitting itself, I again urge everyone to read the county's ordinance. No longer can you form a collective and grow cannabis without government oversight. Assuming your business is properly zoned and complies with the appropriate setbacks and land-use issues, you'll also have to confront things like air quality and odor, energy use and water supply. This is on top of issues like grading, building, plumbing, septic, electrical, fire, and public health and safety.
Some of these areas will require both professional assistance (such as an engineer) and oversight or approval from other government agencies (such as the North Coast Water Quality Control Board). Successful permitting will require properly completing county applications forms, providing supporting documentation, paying fees and meeting the various requirements and regulations.
It's that last item that I expect will cause a lot of hair pulling. Going from unregulated to highly regulated will not be easy. I won't be surprised if many farmers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a local permit, as most properties will need significant expenditures to bring them up to code, especially as they relate to the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
One other area to be especially aware of is that many permits are conditional. If I were thinking of getting such a permit, I would want to get a good grasp on how my neighbors feel about a commercial cannabis business before I started the process. Some cannabis businesses that would otherwise qualify will be denied a permit based on neighborhood objections.
You have three months to get your act together. The decision to go forward must be based not only on the economics of your business, but also on the likelihood of getting a permit. Be conservative in your estimated returns, and plan for delays and greater expenses. Success isn't impossible, but we're entering an unpredictable new era.
Ben Adams is a local attorney who concentrates his practice on cannabis compliance and defense.