Pubdate: Thu, 12 Nov 2015
Source: North Coast Journal (Arcata, CA)
Column: The Week in Weed
Copyright: 2015 North Coast Journal
Author: Grant Scott-Goforth


The Humboldt County Planning Commission embarked on its journey to 
review the latest proposed medical marijuana ordinance recently with 
a marathon meeting that saw dozens of public comments.

The county is hustling to push through the ordinance, which dictates 
which land use zones will be allowed to host marijuana grows. Looming 
overhead is a March 1, 2016 deadline put into place by the package of 
statewide medical marijuana bills passed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 
October. While many of the details of how the state will regulate the 
marijuana industry weren't developed as of the Oct. 5 meeting, the 
bills allow counties to develop permitting procedures as long as they 
are at least as stringent as the (mostly yet-to-be-determined) state 
standards. The catch, the county says, is that local regulations must 
be in place by March 1 or "the state will be the sole licensing 
authority." (Assemblyman Jim Wood opposed that deadline, and his 
staff says removing it is a "top priority" when the Legislature 
reconvenes in January.

"We can get a jump on the process," Deputy County Counsel Joel 
Ellinwood told the commissioners. "We can give cultivators in 
Humboldt County a head start on the state process and provide the 
benefits of this regulatory scheme earlier than would otherwise be the case."

The prospect of ceding local control is alarming to the county, which 
wants to dictate where and how large marijuana grows can be in an 
attempt to curb the fragmentation of large rural properties and the 
associated environmental harm that's blown up with the last 15 years' 
green rush. The state's rules allow for grows up to an acre in size, 
which most people (those who are speaking up, anyway) agree is too 
large for Humboldt County, where most grows take place in remote 
properties unsuitable for typical agricultural production.

So the county's scrambling. As the Journal went to press, the 
planning commission was beginning its second meeting reviewing the 
draft county ordinance, and another is planned for Nov. 12. The board 
of supervisors has directed the commission to make recommendations 
for an ordinance by early December so the supervisors have enough 
time to review, discuss and properly notice the ordinance for adoption.

The planning commission has to move quickly, though it's recently 
been fairly hands-on and slow-moving with simpler projects. And this 
one is daunting, everyone agrees, with the potential to dramatically 
impact Humboldt County's environment and economy. (As the meeting 
went into a five-minute break, the video recording caught one 
commissioner saying "Jesus, that was a lot of reading, I'll tell 
you," before the microphone turned off.) The ordinance has to pass 
environmental review. The supervisors have to rapidly whittle the 
language to their liking. Everything has to go perfectly, basically, 
in order for the county to get its ordinance on the books in time. 
After the planning commission's Nov. 5 meeting, it doesn't look 
particularly promising.

Commissioners are working off of a draft ordinance prepared by county 
counsel and the planning and building department. The draft had a 
rough start, irking supervisors Ryan Sundberg and Estelle Fennell 
upon its release, as it departed from the California Cannabis Voice 
Humboldt draft that was bandied about for a year and submitted to the 
county in September. Both supervisors said they were worried the 
current draft's requirements were so strict that growers wouldn't 
come into compliance, choosing instead to remain in the black market.

That concern was echoed by a number of public commenters at the 
planning commission meeting. As drafted, the ordinance requires 
growers operating with a cultivation area of 2,000 square feet to 
obtain a conditional use permit, a discretionary permit that would 
require a public hearing and review by the planning commission. These 
are expensive and time consuming, and, some argued, would deter compliance.

The draft allows grows of between 500 and 2,000 square feet with a 
"special permit," which requires review by county staff but not a 
public hearing. Grows of less than 500 square feet would be given 
zoning clearance certificates - ministerial permits that don't 
require a review process as long as the application fits the county's 

The draft's tier system and its prohibition on new grows in timber 
production zones have proven to be its most controversial aspects. 
Cannabis advocates have asked the county to increase the minimum size 
requiring conditional use permits. Environmental groups have 
supported the current draft.

At the Nov. 5 meeting, the public was generally supportive of the 
ordinance, though many evinced concerns about the proposed 
regulations without suggesting what, specifically, should be amended.

Several rural residents complained about the noise, light and other 
nuisances from large outdoor grows. Debbie Provolt, the chair of the 
Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights advisory board, said existing 
grows shouldn't be given priority treatment for permits. "Don't 
reward those who've broken the law and punish those who haven't by 
making them jump through hoops," she said.

Representatives from CCVH and the Mattole Sustainable Farmers Guild 
suggested that zoning clearance certificates should be given to grows 
of up to 10,000 square feet in size. Natalynne Delapp of the 
Environmental Protection Information Center and Jen Kalt of Humboldt 
Baykeeper said there should be more in the ordinance to discourage 
water trucking and indoor cultivation. They both called for a cap on 
the total number of permits issued for outdoor grows. Provolt, 
somewhat surprisingly, given the history of their respective 
organizations, agreed.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of the speakers (and submitted public 
comments) came from people involved in or advocating for the medical 
marijuana industry or the environment.

At the outset of the meeting, Commissioner Lee Ulansey (who founded 
HumCPR), sniped at Senior Planner Steve Lazar, who wrote the draft 
ordinance. "Describe what's been going on the last couple of years 
moving toward this step," Ulansey ordered him, saying he's received 
lots of concern from the community that there hasn't been enough 
public involvement in the issue.

Lazar explained that the outdoor cultivation ordinance is the fourth 
phase of the county's attempt to regulate the industry, and that 
several community meetings were held in 2013. "There was always in 
the distance the Holy Grail - commercial cultivation," Lazar said. 
But the stakeholders and county couldn't reach a consensus, and the 
process stalled. Now, Lazar said, the state regulations have leant 
the issue urgency and clear guidance, and brought the medical 
marijuana industry to the table.

Ulansey admonished Lazar for planning a meeting with CCVH and 
environmental groups after the county draft was released. Lazar said 
the meeting was intended to be educational, and that he selected the 
groups because of their involvement over the last several years, but 
that the meeting never took place. Ulansey said more people - 
ranchers, timber owners, conservancy groups - should have been 
involved in the process. But if those groups have concerns about the 
draft land use ordinance, they aren't very vocal about them. Aside 
from one Redway farm owner, people outside of the marijuana/enviro 
world didn't weigh in on the ordinance on Nov. 5.

The commission discussed the ordinance briefly following public 
comment. Ulansey said he'd like to include something in it that would 
allow the county to identify neighborhoods where cultivation is appropriate.

Commissioner Kevin McKenny said he was concerned that the mitigated 
negative declaration the county prepared wasn't sufficient to pass 
state environmental laws, saying it didn't address things like septic 
systems associated with grows. Lazar said the intention of the 
ordinance was simply to identify zones where cultivation could take 
place, and by permitting grows, the county hoped to see a "cascading 
effect of compliance" with other codes that already regulate septic 
systems and other development.

Commissioner Ben Shepherd said he was concerned about a cap on the 
total number of permits, saying it could lead to another "green 
rush." But Commissioner Noah Levy said he liked the idea of a cap - 
both as way to ensure the county's environmental assessment of an 
ordinance was adequate and to encourage people to come quickly into compliance.

The commission continued its hearing, and has less than three weeks 
to forward recommendations and meet the board of supervisors' 
timeline. The Journal will continue to follow the process.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom