WILLITS, 3/3/21 — For the fourth time in as many years, the County of Mendocino is once again seeking applicants for the cannabis permit program manager position, a job once referred to as a “cannabis czar.” The most recent occupant, Megan Dukett, was the third hire since 2018 and held in the position the longest, lasting about a year since her hiring was announced in late January 2020.
The cannabis program manager position was listed as being within the planning and building department, as of Tuesday night. Whomever is hired will report directly to the county supervisors — managers previously reported to the county’s CEO. According to the job listing on the county government’s website position requires a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience, and will pay $83,699.20–$101,732.80 annually (see the full description here).The application period closes on March 11, 2021. Bilingual applicants are encouraged to apply, and there is an extensive list of job duties, requirements, and preferred experience, including familiarity with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which is at the center of much regulatory confusion for the existing permit applicants.
Dukett was originally set to appear at a cannabis ad hoc committee on this subject in early February, but had left the position by the time the meeting occurred. Mendocino County has seen significant and ongoing turnover on a staff level as well as among management or department head positions, with multiple ag commissioners, cannabis program managers, and planning and building managers since the current cannabis ordinance was first went into effect 2016. However, turnover has also occurred within other departments.
The county’s cannabis permitting regulations are facing another round of changes first proposed by the county supervisors, which are up for approval before the planning commission. If approved these revisions would allow for a significant increase in the amount of land on an individual parcel that would be allowed for permitted commercial cannabis cultivation when the county re-opens “phase three” permits for applications — which is expected at some point this year. Applications for county permits are closed, and it is unclear exactly how many applicants remain in some stage of the process or the queue for final county or state approval of the cannabis permits, or exactly why these permits have not been approved.
County officials have regularly cited a number of between 800 and 1100 permittees who initially submitted applications in the first two phases of open applications. However, specific details regarding the status of applicants to the county permit program have not yet been provided to the general public or county supervisors during public meetings or in published reports, often with staff turnover cited as the reason for a lack of clear data. These applicants are currently seeking clear answers to the question of whether and how they will need to undergo a CEQA process to receive annual state permits, which will be required for cannabis farms to continue commercial operations in 2021. How to ensure these previous applicants have a pathway towards annual county and state permits has been the focus of ongoing discussions with the supervisors’ Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee over the last year.
Local cannabis farmers and other residents have long called for the cannabis program manager position to go to someone familiar with both the long standing Mendocino County cannabis industry and the state’s cannabis regulations, both of which are complex and have been changing rapidly over the last several years. None of the previous program managers cited previous experience in the cannabis industry, although the second cannabis program manager, Sean Connell, was hired from his position in the county’s planning and building department, which plays a significant role in the local permitting process, which itself is a prerequisite for permitting approval on the state level for commercial operations.
Megan Dukett also did not have experience with the cannabis industry, but previously worked in the county’s cultural services department. She was also the sister of Sarah Dukett, who as a county employee in the CEO’s office worked extensively on the county’s cannabis ordinance. Sarah Dukett left her position with the county in December, 2020 for a job as a legislative analyst with Rural County Representatives of California.