For much of 2016 and 2017, Alex Roland was on the road. He flitted across the state, scouting the ideal location for a cannabis manufacturing facility.
Roland was determined to find a city with the perfect mix of ingredients — a willing work force, favorable tax rates and what he thought were appropriate cannabis ordinances.
Ultimately, Roland settled on a spot 70 miles north of Half Moon Bay.
“Santa Rosa certainly checks all of those boxes,” said the CEO of NT Ventures, a Hillsborough-based company. “It’s a very time-intensive and expensive process to go through, but ultimately, it’s going to pay off for us.”
Roland’s efforts are already yielding results. Earlier this month, the city of Santa Rosa approved the company’s request to develop a manufacturing plant for medicinal and recreational cannabis products.
Roland said that the site will primarily be used to produce cannabis concentrates. Cannabis manufacturers make an ever-increasing menagerie of cookies, chocolates, gummies, topical lotions and infused drinks.
But it’s the concentrates — cannabis-derived oil extracts — that prompted protests from Santa Rosa residents, who balked at the idea of an extraction plant next to a neighborhood.
“There’s a large industrial park north of a residential community,” said Clare Hartman, deputy director of planning for Santa Rosa. “And that industrial park has a lot of cannabis applicants moving in.”
NT Ventures was one of those applicants. The company’s 4,000-square-foot facility sits on a 2.1-acre site zoned for industrial use.
Residents of the Harvest Park neighborhood, which borders the property to the south, feared that the facility might be a beacon for criminals. Beyond that, they worried that the oil-extraction process, which involves volatile chemicals like butane, posed safety concerns.
“I think they’re knee-jerk reactions,” said Roland. “They’re not based in any sorts of facts. On that same road, there are multiple other industrial facilities using far more dangerous amounts of solvents than we’ll be using. But there aren’t any complaints about those facilities. And the level of regulation (for our operation) … is far higher.”
Roland estimates that the total amount of butane used in the facility will equal the amount generated by five or six backyard barbecues.
“Because we provide notice (to the community) for our cannabis applications, we open up that conversation,” said Hartman when asked about the response to NT Ventures’ proposed facility. “Whereas, if it was a non-cannabis (facility), they wouldn’t receive a notice at all.”
Another spot Roland considered was Alameda County. Across the San Francisco Bay, the city of Berkeley has a storied history of marijuana advocacy. In the wake of the November 2017 election, a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Berkeley Patients Group celebrated decades of activism and lobbying by community members.
“These are definitely high times for Berkeley and California,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, according to media reports from the ceremony.
Manufacturers were quick to capitalize on Berkeley’s cannabis-friendly regulations. Om Edibles, a collective that makes edible cannabis products, was granted a permit to operate last November. BAS Research, a company developing “science-driven” methods for cannabis extraction and manufacturing, was also granted a license that year.
By April 10, 2018, the Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch had issued around 700 temporary manufacturing licenses across the state.