Proponents Stand by Cannabis Reform Initiative, Warn County to Correct 'Distortions'


Proponents of the Humboldt Cannabis Reform Initiative are standing by their proposal that would overhaul the county’s cultivation regulations if passed by voters next year, saying the county’s analysis of the measure is “packed with factual errors, untruths and distortions.”

A county staff report on the 38-page initiative presented to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors last month warned it would have “dire consequences” for the industry, saying that in addition to capping the number and size of new cannabis farms in the county, it would also immediately render 400 of the county’s permitted farms “non-conforming.” Due to ambiguities in the initiative’s language, staff also posited the initiative could then prevent these already permitted farms from making environmental improvements — like adding solar arrays or increasing water storage — and obtaining non-cultivation permits that would allow for tourism or processing on site.

At the supervisors' March 7 meeting, dozens of cultivators addressed the board to decry the initiative, warning it would have dire impacts on an already struggling industry.

The board appointed an ad-hoc committee — comprising Fourth District Supervisor Natalie Arroyo, Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell and Planning Director John Ford — to meet with the initiative’s proponents to see if they could find common ground and persuade them to pull the initiative from the March of 2024 primary ballot. (Because the initiative has qualified for the ballot it can’t be amended before going before voters, and if passed it could only be changed by another vote of the people.)

The ad-hoc committee reportedly met at least twice but does not seem to have moved the needle, as the initiative's proponents sent a letter to the county last week alleging the county staff analysis contained “inaccuracies and mischaracterizations.” Further, the letter warned that continued efforts by the county to disseminate information about the initiative could run afoul of the California Political Reform Act, which prohibits public officials from using public resources to influence campaigns.

“The county can’t use our tax dollars to take sides in this fight,” said proponent Mark Thurmond in a press release. “They have to be thorough, accurate, and fair — and that’s why the board needs to retract its analysis of our initiative. The 7,000 people who signed our petition deserve to be represented too.”

The letter from lawyers representing the proponents to the county takes aim at much of the staff analysis, from its “style and tenor,” which the letter dubs “primarily argumentative,” to its conclusions.

For example, the letter state states there is no ambiguity as to whether the initiative, if passed, would allow existing non-conforming farms to make environmental upgrades to their operations, pointing out that the initiative itself states it “shall be broadly construed to achieve its purpose," which is to "promote environmentally responsible cultivation practices and support watershed health.” As such, the letter posits, of course farms would be allowed to add to their solar arrays and water storage capacity without running afoul.

As to the multiple permits provision, the letter states that the initiative language makes clear that is only in relation to cultivation permits, and the limit would not apply to ancillary permits to allow for tourism or sales. While the initiative would amend the county’s General Plan, the letter notes it also contains language authorizing the county to adopt implementation regulations as long as they are in line with the initiative’s objectives.

The initiative’s proponents are demanding the county either retract staff’s analysis or “promptly correct the errors therein.” Where things go from here remains to be seen.

See the letter from proponents’ legal counsel here, their press release copied below and staff’s analysis here.

ARCATA, Calif.—Proponents of the Humboldt Cannabis Reform Initiative today released a letter from their legal counsel to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and County Planning Director John Ford. The letter details numerous inaccuracies and mischaracterizations in the County’s “Analysis and Recommendations” regarding the Initiative, which Planning Department staff presented at the Board’s March 7, 2023 meeting.
“The County’s analysis is packed with factual errors, untruths, and distortions,” said Initiative proponent Mark Thurmond. “We’ve been talking with the Board’s ad hoc committee about the unfounded assertions and false statements in an effort to correct these misunderstandings of the Initiative, but it’s time to let the Board of Supervisors and the public know how wrong the County’s analysis is about the Initiative.”
The letter refutes many of the County’s inaccurate claims that have been echoed by cannabis industry groups and the local press. For example, the letter rejects the County’s extreme interpretation of the Initiative as precluding environmental improvements on existing cultivation sites. The letter also explains that the Initiative will not require existing cultivators to upgrade their roads or prevent growers from obtaining tourism, dispensary, or bed-and-breakfast permits. Indeed, as the letter demonstrates, the Initiative will provide legal support for several uncodified practices the County claims it’s already following, such as phasing out generators, analyzing effects of new irrigation wells on streams and neighbors, and holding public hearings.
“We know our community is hurting economically, but a lot of the headwinds facing the industry are beyond local control,” said Initiative proponent Betsy Watson. “Our Initiative simply restores some environmental balance and removes the burden on watersheds from the County’s plan to triple the current number of permits, while protecting small farms and their vested legal rights.”
The letter also points out that further efforts to disseminate the County’s argumentative and inflammatory statements may run afoul of the California Political Reform Act, which prohibits public agencies like the County from spending public money to influence ballot campaigns.
“The County can’t use our tax dollars to take sides in this fight,” concluded Thurmond. “They have to be thorough, accurate, and fair—and that’s why the Board needs to retract its analysis of our Initiative. The seven thousand people who signed our petition deserve to be represented too.”

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