NORTHERN CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES: REGULATORY AGENCY DISASTER RELIEF RESOURCES AT A GLANCE

BY: HINMAN & CARMICHAEL LLP

We write this post with heavy hearts as wildfires continue to rage throughout Northern California, affecting many of our clients, friends and colleagues. The wildfire tragedy continues to cause the loss of homes, livelihoods and lives. We express deep love and gratitude to our devastated but resilient Northern California community and to the firefighters, law enforcement and first responders who are on the front lines.

As lawyers who serve the alcohol beverage, hospitality and cannabis industries, we offer a summary below of some of the regulatory considerations for industry members, and those who work within these industries especially hit hard by these fires. Unfortunately, our guidance for cannabis businesses will be even shorter, because of the unsettled legal landscape.

There’s no way around the fact that rebuilding after the wildfires pass will be difficult, expensive and time-consuming, but we know our community will come together to support each other during this difficult time.

ALCOHOL BEVERAGE INDUSTRY RESOURCES AND CONSIDERATIONS

The alcoholic beverage industry, which is regulated by a myriad of federal, state and local agencies, is subject to a plethora of special agency protocols that come into play when disasters strike. The major agency resources available to industry members at this critical time are summarized below, agency by agency.

Because every retail and production premises is licensed as a structure (with diagrammed premises, including bonds for producers), if a building has burned down or been destroyed, the premises may not still be suitable for operations. Where and how a licensee can continue operations pending rebuilding (or re-opening, if partial damage occurs) will be an issue for many wildfire victims. We expect the regulatory agencies will be cooperative and will do their best to waive otherwise inflexible requirements whenever possible.

Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)

Manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and export warehouse proprietors of alcoholic beverages who experience fire or other casualty losses may be eligible for tax relief from the TTB. Proprietors may make claims with the TTB for the payment of federal excise taxes paid on alcoholic beverages. The TTB is also waiving tax penalties for those affected by the fires.

TTB Resources:

California State Board of Equalization (BOE)

The BOE offers emergency tax and fee relief for business owners and feepayers. An extension of up to three months to file and pay taxes and fees is available for the alcoholic beverage tax and an array of other BOE administered programs (listed here).

BOE Resources:

California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC)

The ABC requires licensees to conduct business on licensed premises, keep records available for inspection, and use their license (for example, wholesalers must make at least one sale to retailers every 45 days). But what happens if your business and records are damaged or destroyed and you can’t conduct business as usual? In the coming days, we anticipate the ABC will release fire-related guidance to assist licensees with the destruction caused by the wildfires. Until that time, licensees may find the ABC’s Napa earthquake-related information a useful resource, as it contains information related to the relocation of business operations, storage, breakage, returns, and tied house exceptions for natural disasters (here).

California Department of Insurance

For all insurance claims, contact your insurance company or your agent as soon as possible to gather information to file a claim. If partial damage has occurred, take steps to prevent further damage, take photos of the damaged property, and prepare an inventory of the damaged property. If the damage is extensive, you should not return to your homes and businesses until emergency personnel have cleared the area for reentry. If you haven’t been evacuated yet, but the threat still exists, take photos or take a video of your belongings and keep any receipts.

The California Department of Insurance Resources for Business and Homeowners:

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency operates and manages the Federal Crop Insurance. If you have a Federal Crop Insurance policy—which only covers crops, not vines—claims may be made due to direct damage, smoke taint and potentially an inability to harvest.

USDA Resources:

U.S. Department of Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

All alcoholic beverage manufacturers should be registered with the FDA as a “food manufacturer” unless they qualify for a registration exemption. All registered manufacturers are subject to the FDA’s record-keeping and reporting requirements under the Bioterrorism Act and the newer Food Safety and Modernization Act. Anyone with production spoilages or losses (whether in production or finished product not yet distributed) should document these in detail by variety or brand name, vintage, volume of product lost or spoiled, and lot numbers, if available. Stay posted for specific reporting procedures for these losses for each category of alcoholic beverages once the emergency settles.

California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA)

The CDFA has extended the application deadline for the 2018 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (here).

CANNABIS INDUSTRY RESOURCES AND CONSIDERATIONS

The fires are also devastating the cannabis industry. The timing is especially terrible since we are two and a half months away from the launch of state licensing. Our best suggestion for those still planning to seek state licensing after this tragedy is to protect the records and documentation required for temporary licensing, including business records, local jurisdiction authorizations or permits, and deeds or leases (information about temporary licenses available here). As local and state licensing is about to come online, many of the same concerns with regards to areas that may no longer be suitable for their intended and permitted use will apply to the cannabis space, as discussed above for alcohol licensees.

While there are unfortunately not the same types of government or insurance resources available as for the alcohol and hospitality industry (for example, cannabis cultivators and manufacturers do not qualify for crop insurance or federal emergency relief funds), the cannabis community is turning out to support those in need. Merry Jane has collected a number crowdfunding campaigns that have launched to support members of the industry impacted by the fires, including one organized by CalGrowers to help impacted farmers.

Looking for ways to donate, volunteer, or deliver supplies?

The Wine Institute has published a list (here) on how to help, including links to donate to local disaster relief funds. The Bay Area’s www.7x7.com also has an extensive list detailing where you can make donations, deliver supplies, and which organizations are seeking volunteers (updated daily here). For the animal lovers among you, donations can be directed towards Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch here.

- The Team at Hinman & Carmichael LLP