Humboldt County's outdoor medical marijuana land use ordinance looks like it will meet its early December deadlines, though much remains to be done before it could hit the county books by the looming state-imposed deadline.
The Humboldt County Planning Commission finalized its directions to county staff on Nov. 20, following dozens of hours of public comment and discussion over several weeks of meetings.
Senior Planner Steve Lazar attributed the progress to the commission's "aggressive" hearing schedule, and sounded relatively confident over the phone on the Monday before Thanksgiving that a revised draft will be approved by the planning commission on or before its Dec. 3 meeting. That would give supervisors the opportunity to review the draft and, if miracles don't cease, pass the ordinance by March 1. According to the package of state laws passed earlier this year, the county will cede local control if regulations aren't passed by then.
Lazar said the planning commission made recommendations on a series of policy discussions that came up during the ordinance review.
Perhaps the most debate surrounded the county's permit tiering system, which will regulate what kinds of permits are necessary based on the size and operation of a grow and the parcel it sits on. The commission's most recent suggestions permit three different types of grows: specialty outdoor, with strict agricultural practices, small outdoor, and outdoor.
Specialty outdoor operations with a canopy size of up to 5,000 square feet will be able to secure a zoning clearance on parcels larger than 5 acres, meaning that if the property is zoned properly no discretionary review will be necessary.
Outdoor grows with up to a 20,000-square-foot canopy size will also only require a zoning clearance, as long as the property is 320 acres or larger. A complicated array of canopy-to-parcel-size tiers fall in between.
According to Lazar, the planning commission decided against a cap on the number of cultivation permits distributed by the county, but suggested revisiting that every three months as farms come into compliance. The commission recommended a protocol to refer review of permits to tribal governments, to narrow the areas where indoor cultivation can take place, to add provisions regarding nurseries and on-site processing and to restrict the use of trucked water.
The commission also directed staff to develop performance standards for generator and supplemental lighting use. Lazar said planning staff will be working hard on those in the next week. The planning commission meets again Dec. 1.
Meanwhile, county supervisors are planning to discuss a pre-registration program for medical marijuana growers in early December, hoping to entice cultivators into a "good-standing" designation that could, potentially, give them a boost when the state starts issuing medical marijuana business licenses.
It's all part of the county's current green rush; a line in the new state law suggests that growers in compliance with local rules will be given priority status within the state permitting process.
It's all very nebulous at the moment — the state permitting process is still being drafted and the county likely won't have an outdoor cultivation land use ordinance in place until March. So how can growers possibly show that they're in compliance with county ordinances that don't even exist yet?
The details will likely come out at the board's Dec. 8 meeting, but 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said the county should consider pre-registering with the intent of seeking a medical marijuana business license in the future, once the details of those are hammered out. That pre-registration, assuming the applicant followed through with compliance appropriately, would be enough for the county to report to the state that the applicant was compliant with local policies, thus qualifying the operator for state priority status.