CAN ‘ COTTAGE CANNABIS ’ OPEN DOORS TO SMALL OPERATORS ?
PHOTO : KELLY BARR
Comstock ’ s first in-depth cannabis story ran in December 2011
(“ Up in Smoke ,” by Carol Crenshaw ), explaining how twothirds of Sacramento County ’ s medical dispensaries had shuttered after a crackdown by the county , which lacked any sort of regulatory framework for businesses operating in unincorporated areas .
Things aren ’ t getting less complex with the passage of Proposition 64 in 2016 , which approved the use of recreational cannabis for adults . Jurisdictions began moving forward with their own ordinances to accommodate or prohibit recreational cannabis well before the state ’ s cannabis agency began issuing temporary licenses in January 2018 ( the agency just released a first draft of permanent rules last month ).
This patchwork of regulations has created concentrations of the cannabis industry in some areas of the state , including Sacramento (“ 420 Estates ” by Laurie Lauletta-Boshart , page 52 ). Competition , market uncertainty , and the consequent level of risk and upfront investment necessary to break into the industry makes it difficult for small operators to gain a foothold . Daniel Conway , of cannabis investment firm Truth Enterprises , estimates the cost for starting a viable operation to be at least $ 2 million .
For “ big cannabis ” to become the new “ big tobacco ” would be unfortunate — first and foremost due to injustices already suffered by communities of lower socioeconomic status . Residents in these areas , typically the poor and people of color , have been more likely to be fined or jailed for growing , selling or even merely possessing cannabis . Now that California voters have legalized recreational marijuana , ensuring these communities have access to the economic benefits is vital . But beyond the moral argument , there is a strong economic one for supporting small cannabis operations .
Artisanal offerings enrich a destination ’ s culture . One only needs to look to the growing wine industry in Amador County or the evolution of Sacramento ’ s craft beer scene to see how savvy and passionate small-business owners can redefine a region and invigorate the local economy . Cottage industries allow patrons to form a relationship that extends beyond the basic consumerism of the product itself , creating an experience and an identity more likely to live on in memory and encourage repeat visitors .
Microbusiness permits could help prevent small operators from being excluded from a fledgling industry . Smaller operations would be allowed to apply for a single microbusiness license to undertake at least three commercial cannabis activities in the supply chain under one roof . So as opposed to getting permitted for cultivation , manufacturing , distribution or retail separately — and paying a permit fee for each — these small guys would be allowed a one-stop shop . South Lake Tahoe has given a trial run by issuing two permits , and Sacramento Chief of Cannabis Policy and Enforcement Joe Devlin says his city is working toward it as well .
But a microbusiness permit is only as useful as the existing regulations within a jurisdiction allow it to be . In South Lake Tahoe , microbusinesses will still need to ship their product down the hill to Sacramento for manufacturing , because South Lake Tahoe doesn ’ t allow for non-volatile extraction . Microbusinesses might fare better in the City of Sacramento , which has approved all segments of the commercial cannabis supply chain . For an example on how the patchwork of regulations might thwart microbusiness permits , consider a city like Davis , where they would be almost irrelevant : Commercial cultivation isn ' t allowed within city limits , and retail businesses are restricted from manufacturing .
And then there is the issue of onsite consumption — there are only a handful of municipalities throughout the state that explicitly allow the practice . Jurisdictions are understandably hesitant to approve onsite consumption without the ability of law enforcement to deduce when someone is driving under the influence of marijuana .
But imagine your favorite craft brewery or tasting room without onsite consumption . It is , quite frankly , the central draw of the experience . Patrons enjoy speaking to the grower or business owner as they consume the product , where they can ask about things like flavor palates and cultivation strategy . There ’ s a social aspect as well , and onsite consumption would likely increase tourism dollars .
While any movement toward tamping down barriers to small operators is worth lauding , we cut these businesses off at the knees when we don ’ t allow them to offer customers the opportunity to sample onsite . We all know that small businesses are a fundamental piece of local economies . If they lose out on cannabis , we all lose .