15 Minutes: There’s a new cannabis chief in town

Davina Smith is the city's new cannabis program manager. (Photo courtesy of City of Sacramento)

“Sacramento has really done a lot to make cannabis business opportunities available,” said Davina Smith, the city’s new cannabis program manager.

As the new head of cannabis policy and enforcement with Sacramento’s Office of Cannabis Management, Smith started on the job in January, filling a position that was vacant for seven months. Former “pot czar” Joseph Devlin left the position last year.

“As an aside, I hate being called ‘pot czar’ because czars tend to get killed,” Smith said. “I would prefer any term other than ‘pot czar.’”

She’s worked in Humboldt and Sonoma counties, and said she brings a legal background, with research into juvenile cannabis offenses as an attorney and experience in code enforcement. Smith said she’s excited to get to work. SN&R spoke with Smith about her career as an attorney and how it eventually crossed paths with cannabis.

So what title do you prefer?

My official title is cannabis program manager.

Welcome to Sacramento. Can you tell us about your background?

I am a lawyer, and my legal career started in Humboldt County, where I was first a deputy district attorney and then became a deputy county counsel, primarily on land-use and code-enforcement matters. That morphed into looking at cannabis laws.

Were there a lot of code violations from up there?

Initially, it was grows where there were diesel spills, and these spills migrated into drinking water. I did that from 2008 until I left the job in 2015.

Then you went to Solano County?

Yes, I was the sole code enforcement and cannabis attorney there.

The previous cannabis program manager, Joseph Devlin, advocated for cannabis consumption lounges, but the city council tabled the idea. Are you in favor of on-site consumption lounges or larger cannabis events?

It is something we should explore. There are benefits and detriments to both of those kinds of activities. We do currently have events at Cal Expo. It’s really up to the City Council to decide.

So then, do see your role as an advocate or a facilitator?

I think there’s a mix. One interesting thing about my job is that I am a liaison. It’s not policy-driven, but I can be a little bit of an advocate.

Where is the city right now with its social equity program CORE (Cannabis Opportunity, Reinvestment and Equity)? Are there any qualified applicants in the program?

The council gave us direction to bring forth an ordinance to allow for 10 of the storefront dispensaries for CORE applicants only. We have a number of individuals who have applied for, or obtained, permits. Those are in delivery dispensaries, manufacturing and other businesses. I know there is at least one CORE applicant interested in doing a [test] lab.

There is going to be a lottery for applicants in late May, early June. Once the lottery is completed, those selected have up to three years to open a business.

Do they get any other support along the way?

We already received $1.9 million from the state and are doing a reimbursement program for the applicants. This is just for operational costs. We are asking them to bring receipts. Then we are applying for another grant, where we are eligible for up to $10 million.

One of the issues is finding a location, and we understand the price goes up once the property owner understands it’s going to be a cannabis business.

Do you plan on going after unregulated growers and sellers?

That is definitely one of my most important priorities. I think it is really unfair to ask our licensed businesses to go through the regulatory requirements, if we are not going to try to put a lid on the black market.

How would enforcement work?

We do have an enforcement program. It is through administrative penalties. We can also initiate civil lawsuits through restraining orders, and seek injunctive relief to shut a business down. Those remedies are available to us—and they will be what we’re using.

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