Breaking News: Marin County Rejects All Appeals

Marin County Cannabis
Marin County Cannabis: fog with a bit of sun

We’ve written recently about Marin County in our Cannabis Countdown series. We started with a history and update of Marin County’s medical cannabis ordinance. We then followed up with an update when the County Administrator rejected all ten applicants for medical cannabis dispensary licenses in Marin County (unincorporated Marin that is). Of the ten applicants that were denied, eight filed appeals to the rejections by the County Administrator and seven presented oral arguments before the Marin County Board of Supervisors and the public on May 23rd (one applicant withdrew their appeal prior to the hearing).

Prior to hearing the appeals the County Administrator and Marin County Board of Supervisors released their reasoning behind their rejection of the applicants request for medical cannabis dispensary licenses. Although they varied from applicant to applicant there were a couple of common threads that our readers will find useful:

  1. Applicants that did not have prior experience running cannabis dispensaries were facing an uphill battle. Sure, people can learn on the job but that’s not going to be looked upon favorably when opening up a cannabis dispensary in a jurisdiction of first impression. If an applicant did not have a substantial background running cannabis dispensaries it was one of the first things the Board of Supervisors pointed out.
  2. The tiniest details do matter, especially if you’re hoping to open up a cannabis business in a jurisdiction that’s apprehensive. The Marin County ordinance listed 17 criteria for review in determining whether to grant or deny a medical cannabis dispensary license (See Section 6.85.061 of Ordinance 3639). Make sure your application clearly and forcefully addresses all areas for review because if you don’t, that minor oversight could be a significant one.
  3. Not every locality is ready to open up their jurisdiction to for-profit cannabis businesses. Mind you, I’m not talking about recreational cannabis use under the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) but for-profit medical cannabis businesses as allowed under the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA). The Marin County Board of Supervisors was quick to point out if an applicant was positioned to convert from a non-profit entity to a for-profit one. There was a concern that a for-profit entity would be more concerned about sales than the health concerns of their patient members and being a good community partner. Such a concern may have been unfounded but it didn’t diminish the weight the board placed on the distinction between non-profit and for-profit cannabis businesses.
  4. This is California so don’t ever forget about traffic and parking. The Board found that either an increase of traffic or insufficient parking spots was an issue with every single applicant. America is a pretty divided country on many issues right now but I’ve yet to see a pro-traffic party so be prepared to address those issues as everyone is concerned with them.
  5. Public support is important. What was clear from the start was that most of the applicants had learned their lessons from the public hearings that were held during the application process – which were overwhelmingly attended by those against cannabis businesses. During the appeals there was a much larger gathering of those in support of the applicants as demonstrated by stickers favoring certain dispensary applicants and more encouraging comments when the floor was open to the public. Practice, practice, practice. Although not a stated purpose for rejection it was quite clear that some of the applicants did not spend enough time properly preparing their oral arguments to the Board of Supervisors. Some applicants were represented by counsel that made thoughtful, compassionate, and forceful arguments while some were represented by counsel that were clearly not comfortable in the public environment. Your attorney represents your business so select them wisely. It’s also important to highlight that tone matters. There was one applicant that treated the Board with outright contempt. That’s never going to be a successful strategy. You’ll find yourself before that board again or word of your behavior will travel across the state and imperil future endeavors so take a deep breath before you want to tell a Board of Supervisors how you really feel.

Professionalism, tone, and demeanor are especially important because although the Marin County Board of Supervisors did dish out a heavy dose of stick, they did dangle out a carrot at the end of the hearing. The Board did request that the County Administrator’s office and its working group report back to the Board with suggestions for a medical delivery business licensing plan. There’s no denying that this was a momentary setback for the medical cannabis movement in Marin County but there were some positives to take away. First and foremost the Board of Supervisors reiterated their desire to provide Marin County residents with safe access to medical cannabis and to structure a licensing program to meet that need. Second, Marin County and its municipalities will want to address this issue or continue to lose significant tax revenue to its neighboring counties.

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