SACRAMENTO – Lost amid the flood of last-minute bills just signed by California Governor Jerry Brown was AB 1459, an “urgency statute” that went into immediate effect to address an imminent crisis in the state’s embryonic legal cannabis industry. In short, the bill allows cannabis businesses with temporary licenses to stay open an additional 12 months without having to get local approval.
“The bill addresses a problem faced by much of the California commercial cannabis industry,” explained Robert Selna of Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP on the firm’s blog. “The state cannot issue licenses to operators who have completed state applications until the relevant city or county provides approval, but that local approval has been very slow to come.”
Despite providing three 90-day extensions to applicants with temporary licenses stuck in local backlogs of up to a year or more, the state determined that time had run out. With the temporary licensing program set to expire on the last day of 2018, any cannabis business without a standard license would be forced to close. The number of businesses that would be affected was unacceptably high.
“The bill represents a lifeline for the vast majority of cannabis permit applicants in counties and cities facing long permitting backlogs that have occurred by no fault of their own,” noted Selna. “In Oakland, hundreds of applicants are awaiting sign-off from the city’s building and fire departments before their final permits can be issued.”
Had the bill not been signed into law, added John Oram, CEO of Oakland-based Bloom Innovations, “99.9 percent of Oakland cannabis businesses would have had to shut down.”
Not everyone is pleased with the signing of AB 1459, however. In an op-ed published September 28 by the Times of San Diego, resident Lil Clary, who supports decriminalization of cannabis and voted for Proposition 64, complained about the negative effects she fears will come to pass in the Carpinteria-to-Santa Maria area where she and her neighbors live.
Over the last few years, she wrote, “too many growers seem to have little regard for its beauty. They run heavy equipment at all hours, do un-permitted grading on steep slopes, light up the night sky with lighting in hoop structures, and race heavy water tanker trucks along our narrow road. All this occurs in a canyon that is a high fire zone.”
Extending the licensing process will not solve the problem, she argued. “The rationale [for AB 1459] is that there are backlogs in local jurisdictions preventing timely completion and granting of permits. This may sound logical, but the existing law already allows for extensions”
Clary added that most growers in the area are not even pursuing compliance. “In Santa Barbara County, only nine individuals among the 1,058 applications to the state—the highest in California–have begun the process of meeting local requirements. Extending their deadlines will only exacerbate a bad situation,” she said.
“As the industry shakes out,” she concluded, “I fear that marginal operators will plant, pollute and harvest, and leave the bill to taxpayers to remediate damage at the grow sites.”