Like all businesses on the Coastside, cannabis growers, many of whom only recently got their productions set up, now must adapt their work to the realities brought by COVID-19. Their situation is different in one important respect however: These businesses aren’t legal in the eyes of the federal government and aren’t eligible for any federal aid.
Aneese Bishara, who owns Half Moon Grow on Frenchmans Creek Road, said business has been steady so far and he hasn’t had to let go of any workers. He’s grateful for that, since cannabis companies like his aren’t eligible for federal assistance like small business loans, and his employees don’t qualify for payroll benefits like severance if they were to be fired.
“The worst part about it is none of the federal relief can ever touch a cannabis company,” Bashara said. “None of that is on the table for us.”
That legal status is a problem that’s plaguing companies across the state. Many conduct all their business in cash and even pay taxes in cash because banks won’t serve them. Natalynne DeLapp, operations director at Humboldt County Growers Association, which supports cannabis growers in the Northern California county, said her group is advocating for cultivation tax dollars to be reinvested into the industry at the county level in Humboldt County.
DeLapp said California officials have indicated cannabis companies will be eligible for the state’s own fund to help small businesses. But because the loans are offered through banks, DeLapp said the emergency loans still may not be accessible to most cannabis growers.
DeLapp said most cannabis businesses are not asking for help because of a lack of demand for their products or changes to their productions during COVID-19. The biggest issue she’s heard is finding
staff available to work in the greenhouses while many have families and kids at home while school has gone remote.
“The difficulty mostly has to do with having adequate workforce to continue production,” DeLapp said.
For Half Moon Grow and its retailer Left Coast Ventures, business has continued to be strong and they haven’t faced staffing issues yet. Bishara said the retailer is seeing more bulk orders and requests for deliveries.
To adapt to county and state health orders, Bishara has closed his facilities to guests and the public, and has enforced social distancing by spacing workers out among greenhouses. He said workers are wearing gloves and masks and each has a letter from the California Department of Agriculture saying such workers are deemed essential employees by the state. They’re also getting food delivered from Greenhearts Family Farm so workers don’t have to leave to get food.
“We’re doing lots of small things that add up to a big difference,” Bishara said.