Pubdate: Thu, 07 Jan 2016
Source: North Coast Journal (Arcata, CA)
Column: The Week in Weed
Copyright: 2016 North Coast Journal
Author: Grant Scott-Goforth


The Fortuna City Council voted unanimously Jan. 4 (with Councilmember 
Linda Gardner absent) to approve the first reading of an ordinance 
banning almost any medical marijuana activity, including cultivation 
for personal use, within city limits.

The city already has a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries on its 
books, but the expansion of the prohibitions, City Clerk Linda McGill 
told the Journal, was to maintain the city's local control when state 
regulations go into effect. The deadline for local ordinances to be 
in place is March 1, prompting a statewide scramble for city and county laws.

McGill says the council will likely revisit the issue, and that it's 
easier to pass strict regulations and loosen them later, rather than 
the other way around. She added that the League of California Cities 
is promoting prohibitions as a way for cities to maintain local 
regulatory control and revisit the issue after deadline.

The council will bring the ordinance back for a second reading on 
Jan. 18. If it's approved then, it will go into effect 30 days later.

As the Journal went to press, the Humboldt County Board of 
Supervisors was holding its own discussion of a proposed outdoor 
medical marijuana cultivation ordinance - the same one that did a 
speed-run through the planning commission in November.

The board, in addition to hearing loads of public comment, began to 
discuss how it would prioritize the issues before it and come to a 
consensus in order to reach the March 1 deadline.

As the gears of bureaucracy run at full steam, environmental groups 
may pose the latest threat to a timely resolution.

Any law, as drafted by staff and approved by the board of 
supervisors, must come complete with a statement that it won't have a 
negative impact on the environment to avoid a full-blown 
environmental review, according to state law. This is called the 
mitigated negative declaration, and county staff has been drafting 
one of these documents as it writes and rewrites the proposed ordinance.

At the board's Dec. 15 hearing on the matter, Lovelace pointed out 
that that the county's challenge is greater than proving that its 
mitigated negative declaration is sufficient. It has to avoid a 
challenge to the document under California's Environmental Quality 
Act - if someone, or some group, demands a state review, the county 
will miss its March 1 deadline and cede all control of the local 
medical marijuana industry to the state. "We're done," Lovelace said.

Local enviro heavyweights the Environmental Protection Information 
Center (EPIC), Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC), Humboldt 
Baykeeper and Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment (SAFE) 
have seized on that fear. In a letter submitted to the board at the 
end of last year, the sometimes litigious groups write that the draft 
approved by the planning commission in November, which the 
supervisors are currently operating off of, does not match up with 
the accompanying mitigated negative declaration. All but threatening 
a lawsuit, the environmental groups write that the planning 
commission draft "strayed too far from the circulated MND and risks 
tying up this necessary and important ordinance in litigation."

To resolve that, the groups encourage supervisors to prohibit new 
marijuana grows in timber production zones and increase the types of 
grows that would require discretionary review, protections 
environmentalists have been seeking since the beginning.

"To move forward in a timely manner while bringing the cannabis 
community into the light and improving environmental conditions, we 
urge the Board to cautiously stay within the bounds of the circulated 
mitigated negative declaration," the letter reads.

The groups certainly have the capacity to challenge the declaration - 
but whether the supervisors take that threat seriously enough to 
tighten the drafted ordinance, and whether environmentalists would 
risk ceding local control by officially disputing the draft, remains 
to be seen. The Journal will continue to cover the topic.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom