County supervisors approved a voluntary registration program this week that could give local growers seeking state permits a leg up.
New state medical marijuana laws, expected to go into effect in 2018, will create 17 different types of licenses for cannabis businesses. As an apparent stimulus to get applications rolling in, the legislation says that any medical marijuana business in operation and good standing in local jurisdictions by Jan. 1, 2016 will get "priority" status when applying for state licenses down the road. It's unclear what that status will provide, but the clause has left counties scrambling to determine how to recognize what "good standing" means, considering there's no county laws to date dictating how large outdoor grows can operate. (The title of this column is a quote from Senior Planner Steve Lazar describing the rush to develop regulations in the wake of new state laws.)
Humboldt's solution is a voluntary registration program, the purpose of which is twofold: to give deserving local growers state priority status, and to identify the local demand for the varying state licenses.
As of right now, you can go to the planning and building permit and fill out a form with your name, contact information and a description of the size, location and nature of your "commercial cannabis activity." Simply registering won't mean you're in good standing — the county will need to review operations for accuracy.
The details defining "good standing" remain to be worked out in the next 30 days by various county agencies, including the sheriff's office. But the program will work retroactively, to a certain extent, acting as documentation that cannabis growers who registered were seeking county approval, and would be recognized, in an official capacity, as having been in good standing prior to Jan. 1, 2016 — once their claims are vetted.
Supervisors raised some doubts about how people would prove they were operating by Jan. 1 and how difficult it might be to determine if grows were in good standing. But Lazar said there are a variety of tools, including publicly accessible aerial photographs that could help the county efficiently verify registrants' claims.
Lazar also released the draft medical marijuana cultivation ordinance that county supervisors will look at next week (for details, see this link), as well as a letter in support of the recommendations penned by planning commission Chair Robert Morris and a letter from Commissioner Noah Levy explaining why he voted against the recommendations.
The planning commission recommendations lean toward the pro-cannabis side — perhaps not surprising, given the board's majority makeup of property rights advocates and developers. While the planning commission's primary role is to make sure proposed laws fit the mission of the county and are consistent with state and local codes, the current iteration of the commission has proven to be vocal about its philosophies, and those are reflected in the draft recommendations. The commission declined to include several requests from environmental groups, such as a ban on cultivating in timber production zones.
Lazar said the planning commission requested that a "Humboldt Heritage" concept, which would reward best-practice growers, be included in the draft. Lazar acquiesced, but said the piece was "tacked on."
"The tension we're feeling is that branding isn't really the domain of the planning and building department," he said.
The letters highlight the most controversial point: marijuana grows on timber production zone parcels. In supporting the recommendations, Morris wrote it was appropriate to allow cultivation on TPZ lands because "there is already an enormous number of existing grows on TPZ lands and to not include these lands would totally remove any incentive for these growers to apply for a permit and bring these grows into compliance with modern Best Management Practices."
The mitigated negative declaration — the county's guarantee to the state that the law won't harm the environment — will be "bolstered" by more grows coming into compliance, Morris wrote.
But Levy wrote that allowing grows on TPZ lands without discretionary review by the county "poses a problem that the [mitigated negative declaration] is currently not equipped to address, and which I fear will make it difficult for this type of environmental document to survive a legal challenge."
Allowing new and existing grows on TPZ lands will alter Humboldt's landscape, Levy wrote. "Such a change would instantly undercut the economic logic of owning large tracts of forestland to be managed for timber. I fear this could mean the end of timber production as any part of Humboldt's future."