Surprise & Speculation: CA Green-lights First Annual Cultivation Licenses — Will Others Soon Make it Out of Licensing Limbo?

Celebrations are in order for one cannabis cultivator in California caught by surprise late last week after it was approved for two annual adult-use cultivation licenses—a first for the state, which legalized cannabis for adult use in November 2016.

There are thousands of temporary licenses waiting in limbo, but it was Forbidden Fruit Farms in southern Humboldt County who got the official green light to grow within the framework of the Specialty Outdoor and Speciality Mixed-Light Tier 1 licenses.

The agency in charge of cultivation licenses, the Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis, quietly rolled out the active annual listings Saturday (Oct. 27).

“This is a historical moment for the state of California and an important step in bringing the cannabis industry into the regulated market,” Richard Parrott, director of CalCannabis, said in a statement emailed to Cannabiz Media Tuesday (Oct. 30).

Could California soon see a wave of annual licenses rise out of the backlog of temporary permits?

There were 2,547 annual cultivation license applications under review as of Monday (Oct. 29), according to a CalCannabis spokesperson.

And that number doesn’t account for all of the other types of licenses waiting for review, such as manufacturing, retail, and testing.

‘Too Far to Quit Now’

The move was both so long-awaited and anxiously anticipated that it even caught the applicant off-guard, who submitted his application for an annual license on April 27 and said he had no idea he was about to be approved until he received an email from CalCannabis asking for the license fee to be submitted.

“I was honestly in shock at first,” Dylan Carstensen, the owner and cultivator of Forbidden Fruit Farms, told, a local news site that first announced the approval.

He added that getting permitted wouldn’t have been possible without his partner, Kaylie Saxon, general manager of Green Road Consulting, a Humboldt-based civil engineering firm that specializes in cannabis compliance.

“With this being such a new process, the regulations both locally and statewide change so rapidly it’s hard to keep up,” Carstensen told Cannabiz Media.

Carstensen said the duo pushed through the hurdles of legalization, eventually adopting this mindset: “We’ve gone too far to quit now, and we’re riding this train until there are no more tracks.”

As the very first official adult-use cannabis cultivator, Forbidden Fruit Farms will be allowed cultivation with artificial light at a rate of 6 watts or less per square foot, as well as an outdoor cultivation area of 5,000 square feet of canopy or less and up to 50 mature plants.

Who Will Be Next?

Cannabiz Media has been informed that a manufacturer has also received an email about being approved for an annual license; that email was from the state’s Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch, which handles licenses for making products and is part of the Department of Public Health.

The company, operating as Project Make in Richmond, CA, has had a temporary license since Jan. 1 and applied for its annual in the spring, according to Nara Dahlbacka, vice president of Milo Group of California Inc., an Oakland, CA-based government affairs firm offering strategic counseling.

“This manufacturing client is one we’ve been working with on their local authorization in the city of Richmond for nearly two years,” Dahlbacka added.

She said the email was received Friday (Oct. 26) and stated that the annual application was approved pending payment of the licensing. She was not sure if the payment had been made yet.  

6,000 Licenses and Counting

The only other annual licenses the state has okayed have been for a handful of Event Organizers. These came from the third agency, the Bureau of Cannabis Control, which falls under the Department of Consumer Affairs and runs the process for retailers, distributors, testing labs, and microbusinesses. Plus it’s the lead agency in developing state regulations.

Among the three departments, at least 6,000 licenses are still listed as temporary, which are valid for 120 days, with the possibility of 90-day extensions. During those 120 days, license holders are supposed to file their annual application with the state. And then they wait.

The state started accepting applications for temporary licenses, which require approval from local jurisdictions, at the beginning of the year, but the window of opportunity to apply for those closes on Dec. 31. So, anyone who is trying to set up shop in a jurisdiction with a grueling approval process could be left scrambling. Especially for cultivation—CalCannabis has moved their cut off date up to Dec. 1.

Meanwhile, temporary applications are still rolling in, tying up a lot of time and resources while those with nearing expiration dates are wondering where the heck their annual approval is.

Legislative Advocate Weighs In

Max Mikalonis, a legislative and regulatory advocate for Sacramento-based K Street Consulting LLC, said he was also aware of a manufacturing company that had been awarded an annual license, adding that its temporary was set to expire.

“They have been awarded an annual license instead of extending their temporary license,” Mikalonis told Cannabiz Media.

Even once the manufacturer is paid up and officially approved, it could be awhile before the Department of Public Health reflects the new information on its website, according to Mikalonis.

He said the department hasn’t updated its license search in over two weeks.

“There has been no formal announcement from the [Bureau of Cannabis Control] or other regulatory agencies about this happening, which is surprising given the news, but maybe that will happen once the Bureau starts to issue licenses as well,” Mikalonis added.

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