Growing Community Supports Amendment to Nevada City Ordinance for Medical Cannabis Dispensaries

Local Not-for-Profit Aims for Second License after City Council Split Decision in November

Nevada City, Calif., December 13, 2017 – Local not-for-profit organization, “Growing Community,” has issued a letter to the City of Nevada City in support of amending the City’s Medical Cannabis Dispensary (MCD) Ordinance to promote competition in the local medical cannabis market.  The Nevada City Council has placed the question of amending the MCD Ordinance on the agenda for the City Council meeting scheduled December 13th at 6:30pm at City Hall.

At the November 15th meeting, the City Council opened “Phase 4” of the applicant review and selection process with a Public Meeting, a Phase of the process designed to gather and assess public input and public support or concerns for the three qualified applicants.  Despite overwhelming public support for Growing Community in written and oral comments from the citizenry, the Council issued a split decision (3-2) vote to recommend that staff draw up an operating permit for the applicant Elevation 2477, whose proposed location is 569 Searls Ave.

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“We were deeply disappointed by last month’s decision by the Council majority to recommend a permit for another applicant, and confused as to if, when and how the Council and Staff would take into account public sentiment and support in their decision-making,” states Jason Rainey, President of the Board of Directors for Growing Community.  “We witnessed such overwhelming community support for our innovative dispensary model and business plan—it was confidence-inspiring.  We believe there’s room for competition and patient choice, and are asking the City to amend the Ordinance and issue Growing Community it’s second permit in short order, before a cannabis monopoly is established in the Seven Hills Business District.”

From the December 13th City Council Agenda “Item 8D,” City Staff issued the following recommendation:

Recommendation: Review and discuss Ordinance 2017-06 Section 9.22.040 (Medical Cannabis Businesses) and provide direction to staff as to the possibility of amending item A.1 (Medical Cannabis Dispensaries) to allow Nevada City Council to issue greater than one (1) Medical Cannabis Dispensary Permit.

The City Manager’s Report (page 190 of Council Packet for December 13th) also states:

“It was noted during discussion (at November 13th Council Meeting) that all three applicants were extremely qualified and was a difficult decision to make as to which applicant should receive the permit. Also during the cannabis selection conversation the question was raised as to the potential interest from City Council in revisiting the maximum permittance of one (1) dispensary and entertaining the idea of increasing the number of allowable permits. Staff was directed to agendize this matter for discussion at the December 13, 2017 City Council meeting.”

“We are on the verge of creating a model that could transform the cannabis world and our community in amazing ways. Our all volunteer not-for-profit board has adopted an unprecedented policy that 100% of Growing Community’s net profits will be used to benefit local nonprofits,” said Fran Cole, Board Vice President of Growing Community and local attorney. “Rather than appeal the City’s process, or try to make sense of their preferred candidate, we simply seek an opportunity to get our model up and running—and demonstrate the seriousness of our commitment to the City and our local community.”

Growing Community’s letter to the City (linked in the Council Packet here, starting on page 227) dated December 7th makes a specific recommendation that the Council take a vote to amend the ordinance to allow for more than one dispensary in the shortest timeframe that can also accommodate public comment.  And, Growing Community calls on the Council to remedy the confusion and discrepancies that took place at the previous City Council meeting, and to clarify the order of the “second” and “third” ranked MCD applicants.

“We’re looking ahead to a bright future,” states Board Treasurer Nichols Baughman. “If given the chance to partner with the City, Growing Community will have a positive impact on the marketplace by supporting the most responsible local farmers employing verifiable, environmentally sensitive cultivation methods. With a permit in hand, and through continued engagement with the County, every purchase at our Medical Cannabis Dispensary will benefit the community in which we live, support our farmers, and protect our land and water.”

“I have the utmost confidence that Growing Community’s business model of buying locally and giving 100% of our profits back to the community will allow us to prosper in a competitive business environment of multiple dispensaries,” states Paul Harton, the former General Manager of the BriarPatch Co-op who will lead the staff of Growing Community.  “While the dispensary locations are limited to Nevada City proper, the customer base constitutes a much larger area including Grass Valley and all of Nevada County.  Competition strengthens businesses and provides consumers with choice about where they want to spend their money.”

Another related item regarding the City’s Medical Cannabis Dispensary is on the December 15th City Council Agenda, listed as “Item 7C”:

Subject: Resolution Of The City Council Of The City Of Nevada City Approving The Application Of “Elevation 2477” To Operate A Medical Cannabis Dispensary At 569 Searls Avenue, Nevada City Recommendation: Pass Resolution 2017-XX confirming the selection of “Elevation 2477” as the applicant to be issued a permit for operation of a dispensary at 569 Searls Avenue.

As background, on June 14th, 2017 the City Council adopted a Resolution approving the “Applicant Procedures for Medical Cannabis Dispensary Permits,” which described in detail the specific “Phases” and sequential steps to be taken in the application process (Applicant Procedures document begins on page 196 of this link to the June 14th Council Packet.).  The City approved “Phase 4: Review and Selection” as having the following steps:

“Phase 4 Steps to be followed:

1. Public Meeting of top three (3) applicants for each category.

2. City Manager’s final review and evaluation.

3. City staff prepares and presents final report to City Council.

4. City Council makes final selection.

During Phase 4 the top three (3) applicants shall participate in a public meeting that will be held in the Nevada City City Hall Council Chambers on a date and time to be determined by City staff. At the Public Meeting the community will be allowed to present concerns and/or support, and provide additional considerations for potential permit conditions that will be created by staff. The Public Meeting will not be determinative as to who receives the permit but shall inform staff of potential concerns for which a condition or conditions may be necessary to address. Decisions, recommendations and conditions will be based primarily on site inspection results, business feasibility, and the viability of the proposed location. After the completion of the Public Meeting and prior to the City Manager’s final recommendation to City Council, the City reserves the right to request and obtain additional information from any candidate who submitted a proposal. Upon the completion of the final review process, the City Manager will tabulate its final scoring of the top three (3) applicants, and present to City Council final scoring of the top three (3) applicants. The top three (3) applicants should be prepared to attend a City Council meeting in Nevada City, in order to provide a public presentation before the Mayor and City Council introducing their team and providing an overview of their proposal.”

Step 1 of Phase 4 (the “Public Meeting”) was conducted on November 15th, 2017 and Step 4 of Phase 4 “City Council Final Selection,” will be concluded at the December 13th meeting.  While the Public Meeting on November 15th generated dozens of comments, in addition to nearly 50 formal letters, supporting Growing Community, it is unclear from the contents of the City Council Packet for December 13th how this input will be, or has been, integrated into the “City Manager’s final review and evaluation” step.

The City Council Packet for December 13th also is without details on what, if any “additional information from any candidate” was sought by staff or Council members between the Public Meeting and this forthcoming “final selection” vote.  Nor does the packet inform if any “potential concerns for which a condition or conditions may be necessary to address” have been raised by Council members to be incorporated into the terms of the final permit for Elevation 2477.

Further, while the City Manager’s recommendation is for final approval of Elevation 2477’s permit, it’s unclear if she will present on Steps 2 & 3 of Phase 4, specifically if the City Manager has completed a “(tabulation of) final scoring of the top three applicants” based “upon completion of the final review process”, including a quantification of the public support garnered at the Phase 4 Public Meeting.  To date, neither the majority Council members nor Staff has given evidence or explanation of if, or how, written or oral public input has been incorporated into their recommendations for whom to issue the permit.

Under the rules of order followed by the Nevada City Council, there will be a period of open Public Comment on this agenda item.

Leadership and structure

Incorporated in April 2017, Growing Community is currently comprised of a board of five volunteer directors who reside in Nevada City or Nevada County, represent diverse backgrounds and professions, and who are united in a common vision of social and environmental responsibility. The Board has created an Advisory Council of community leaders to provide additional expertise.

Growing Community will be located on a 1.5-acre lot at the end of Lower Grass Valley Road in Nevada City. The building is zoned light industrial and is considered a desirable location by the City for a medicinal cannabis dispensary. The property sits at the edge of the incorporated area of Nevada City, at the end of a long block of industrial-related businesses, away from residential and commercial areas.

Growing Community is a not-for-profit Mutual Benefit Corporation organized under California law and will operate in strict compliance with state and local laws and regulation. Growing Community will only dispense medical cannabis to qualifying patients or designated caregivers who have successfully completed the patient intake procedures and verified that they consent to Growing Community’s rules of conduct and behavior. This strict regulatory compliance over operations will prevent diversion and protect the youth of our community.