Amid Behind-the-Scenes Controversy, County Issues a New Call for Proposals to Market Humboldt Cannabis – Lost Coast Outpost

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With California’s cannabis market crashing due to oversupply — and local growers feeling particular pain — the County of Humboldt is making its third attempt in the past two years to recruit an entity to market and promote Humboldt County weed.
The marketing effort will be funded via a 60 percent cut of the budget for Project Trellis, the county’s cannabis industry support initiative, which is financed with local weed tax revenues.
When the county issued its first request for marketing proposals, back in November 2019, it garnered more than 20 applications from a variety of firms. However, that process, like so much else, fell apart during the COVID pandemic.
The county tried again last May, issuing a new request for proposals (RFP) and this time limiting applicants to local nonprofits. 
In response, the county received just a single application. It came from the Humboldt Community Business Development Center (HCBCD), a tax-exempt charitable organization affiliated with the better-known Humboldt County Growers Alliance. The HCGA, led by Executive Director Natalynne DeLapp, is a member-based industry group representing local cannabis professionals. 
Seems simple enough, right? If only one applicant comes forward, they get the gig. Not so fast. At some point in the process the county started receiving calls and inquiries — including feedback from the Southern Humboldt Business and Visitors Bureau (SHBVB) — suggesting that HCBDC/HCGA had been given an unfair advantage.
See, last year, HCGA was hired by the county to develop a cannabis marketing assessment, and it did so, producing a lengthy analysis and series of recommendations designed to serve as a blueprint of sorts for branding and promoting Humboldt County cannabis.
Scott Adair, the county’s economic development director, said his department has since used that document as a framework to help shape what a marketing initiative might look like.
Some observers of the process, including the SoHum Bureau, questioned whether there was a potential conflict of interest at play — or at least the appearance of one. These critics said it seemed as if the county’s request for proposals was written explicitly for the HCGA and its affiliated business development agency. Or, at the very least, that those groups had a distinct advantage. 
After consulting with California Fair Political Practices Commission and discussing the matter with the county’s lead attorney, Adair and his staff decided to start the whole process over once again.
In a recent phone conversation with the Outpost, Adair said that while HCBDC and HCGA are separate entities with their own boards of directors and tax ID numbers, there is some overlap between them. DeLapp serves as executive director of both, for example.
“So county counsel advised us — just to make it very clean and transparent and to protect all parties and avoid even an appearance of a conflict of interest — to scrap the RFP,” Adair said. 

The county rejected HCBDC’s marketing proposal and, in a press release issued this morning, announced a new request for proposals — with a few key differences from the last go-round.
For one thing, for-profit companies are allowed to apply this time. Adair said that in Humboldt County there’s “not a sufficient number of nonprofits that are resourced and staffed well enough to apply, so [in the previous process] we excluded many otherwise qualified proposers.” 
Applicants do have to be based in Humboldt County, though. And Adair said the new RFP has some “enhanced language” addressing conflicts of interest. 
The closing date for this latest RFP is November 22 — just a month and a week away.
“We’re eager to move this forward as quickly as possible,” Adair said. “We know how dire some of the market conditions are right now and how that’s affecting cultivators.”
In a statement provided to the Outpost, DeLapp said, “HCGA and HCBDC are working with the County and the FPPC to determine if a legitimate conflict of interest exists. We look forward to putting these questions to bed once and for all. And then to be able to resubmit our vision for how to serve our community’s interest.”
Several calls to the SHBVB did not go through — we got an “all circuits are busy” message. We also sent an email to the organization but did not hear back before the time of publication.
Here’s the county’s latest request for proposals:
For many decades, the cannabis industry has been a significant economic driver in Humboldt County. As cannabis emerges as a statewide industry, the county is looking at ways to maintain a competitive advantage to preserve and strengthen the regional brand.
To achieve this goal, the county is issuing a new Request For Proposals (RFP), seeking a qualified local entity to work with staff on developing a marketing strategy for a distinct national and industry “branding initiative” for Humboldt County-grown cannabis along with local cannabis-related products and services.  

The selected applicant will serve as the county’s lead contracted agency for cannabis marketing initiatives and will provide a broad range of professional marketing services, including promoting Humboldt County cannabis as a unique, high-quality product. The applicant will utilize and employ specific recommendations and findings of the Humboldt County Marketing Assessment. This marketing RFP and the services that will be provided are one of three programs of the county’s Project Trellis, a broad-reaching initiative aimed at supporting the local cannabis industry.
For eligibility and format requirements, please review the Collective Cannabis Branding, Marketing, and Promoting Strategy RFP.
How to apply: Refer to RFP for full application instructions. Electronic submissions must be sent to ProjectTrellis@co.humboldt.ca.us and received no later than 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 22, 2021. 
Proposals may be subject to public disclosure pursuant to the California Public Records Act.
About Project Trellis: Project Trellis is a three-tiered program that was developed to support cannabis businesses and individuals involved in Humboldt County’s cannabis industry. The program’s three levels of support include a Cannabis Business Micro-grant program, a Local Equity Program and a Humboldt County Cannabis Branding,
Marketing and Promotion Program. The Micro-grant program provides cannabis businesses an opportunity to apply for funding to cover business related expenditures. The Local Equity program provides resources to local communities and individuals who have been impacted by the War on Drugs. The Marketing and Promotion component is designed to promote and maintain Humboldt grown cannabis as a national and industry brand.
For more information, visit the Project Trellis Marketing Program or call Peggy Murphy, Economic Development Specialist, at 707-599-0125.
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