Pubdate: Fri, 26 Feb 2016
Source: Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)
Copyright: 2016 Times-Standard
Author: Will Houston


Friday marks the first day Humboldt County medical marijuana growers 
can apply to become a certified commercial cultivator, but not all 
growers are happy about it.

Earlier this week, the Humboldt-Mendocino Marijuana Advocacy Project 
(HUMMAP) filed a notice of intent to sue the county over its recently 
approved Commercial Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance, claiming 
that it did not properly address the environmental impacts of larger 
marijuana grows. The lawsuit seeks to prohibit the ordinance from 
taking effect until a full environmental review is conducted.

HUMMAP founding member Robert Sutherland said the decision to sue the 
county was controversial within his organization, but a majority of 
the members favored the move.

"We're looking forward to a healthy marijuana industry in this 
county," Sutherland said. "I think it's really important for our 
future and to get it right at the beginning."

Humboldt County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck said he received the notice of 
intent on Wednesday, but did not have any comment on the matter yet 
as he had not seen the actual complaint. HUMMAP's representing 
attorney Rachel Doughty of the Berkeley-based Green Fire Law firm 
said she is set to file the lawsuit Friday. The deadline to file the 
lawsuit is Feb. 29.

Board chairman and 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace said he had 
not seen the notice of intent and stated the board would likely 
discuss it in closed session on March 1.

"I've heard some public comment that suggested such a move might 
happen, so it's not a total surprise," Lovelace said of the lawsuit.

Humboldt County's medical marijuana commercial cultivation ordinance 
was created after nearly a year of work by multiple entities all 
culminating with the board of supervisors' unanimous approval of the 
regulations on Jan. 26. The ordinance is purported to be the first of 
its kind in the state after the state's Medical Marijuana Regulatory 
and Safety Act took effect on Jan. 1.

The ordinance sets land use regulations and creates a permitting 
system for both existing and new commercial medical cannabis 
cultivation, processing, and manufacturing practices. The ordinance 
allows up to nearly one-quarter acre of new outdoor cultivation per 
applicant, up to 1 acre of existing outdoor cultivation, up to about 
one-half acre of outdoor mixed-light grows and up to 10,000 square 
feet of indoor grows depending on the size and zoning of a land parcel.

The ordinance also creates an incentive program to encourage growers 
to relocate their grows away from what the county deems to be 
unsuitable cultivation sites to more appropriate sites, such as 
agricultural zones, in exchange for leaner permitting requirements.

Where the controversy kicked in for Sutherland was the county's 
stance that the ordinance would not have any significant 
environmental impacts as defined under the California Environmental 
Quality Act.

The county adopted what is known as a mitigated negative declaration, 
which states that it did not need to conduct a full environmental 
impact report for the ordinance because of the lack of impacts.

To stay within the bounds of this claim, the board limited new 
cultivation to lands that already allow for agriculture and increased 
permitting requirements for larger grows.

The county is currently in the process of developing a full 
environmental review for a proposed expansion of the ordinance.

Sutherland said he does not think the county's regulations and 
permitting scheme created enough safeguards to protect the 
environment and repeatedly advocated for grows to be limited to 3,000 
square feet or less during the formation of the ordinance.

"There are thousands of grows out there and if they are all just 
getting a rubber stamp, it's going to have serious implications for 
the environment," Sutherland said.

The proposed lawsuit calls for the ordinance to be set aside until a 
full environmental review is conducted, a declaration stating the 
board's adoption of the ordinance was illegal, and payment of 
attorney fees among other demands.

Sutherland said he does not want to have the ordinance thrown out in 
any way and hopes the county will be "amenable" to reach a settlement 
that would address his organization's concerns.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom