Humboldt county expands its marijuana industry under new rules gum pain after tooth extraction

When Humboldt County approved its first cannabis industry rules two years ago, the historic occasion was met with a rousing standing ovation in the packed Board of Supervisor’s chambers. When the board approved the first major expansion to its cannabis industry on Tuesday afternoon, the reaction was notably hushed.

The ordinance — passed in a 4-1 vote with 3rd District Supervisor Mike Wilson dissenting — expands the catalogue of cannabis businesses allowed, seeks to address conflicts with less cannabis-friendly communities, applies retroactive rules to already-approved businesses, caps the number of new farms and opens the door for cannabis tourism businesses such as farm tours and “bud and breakfasts.”

No new applications were accepted by the county after that point until the county completed an environmental study on the industry — a requirement the county agreed to as part of a settlement agreement with the Humboldt-Mendocino Marijuana Advocacy Project in mid-2016.

The new ordinance imposes a cap on the number of new farms and limits where they can be located. Only 3,500 new farms encompassing a total of 1,200 acres will be allowed to be approved. Those farms will be split up between 12 different watersheds scattered throughout the county.

Responding to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s concerns, the board also prohibited any new farms to be approved or existing farms to be expanded in lands near 11 rivers and creeks. These waters have been identified by the state as having already been impacted by cannabis — namely through illegal diversions — or is critical habitat for species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Humboldt Redwood Healing CEO Thomas Mulder called on the board to consider exceptions for farmers in these watersheds who are able to get their water supply during the wet months in January and February or entirely from rainwater catchment systems, but these changes were not added.

Friends of the Eel River Executive Director Stephanie Tidwell called on the county to conduct studies on how many new farms local watersheds could handle before allowing any new farms or expansions. Not doing so, she said, would place threatened salmon species such as Coho in greater trouble than they’re already in.

Changes adopted by the board on Tuesday also give these large-parcel owners the ability to add support structures to their properties such as concentrate manufacturing and processing facilities. These facilities would also be allowed to be used for up to about a quarter-acre of indoor growing if the owner gets a special permit for that.

Honeydew Farms LLC co-owner Alex Moore said this indoor allowance would allow his business to create a nursery, thereby allowing him to preserve his genetics. Moore also called on the board to allow both volatile and non-volatile concentrate extraction to occur on these larger parcels — which the board ultimately approved — to allow farms to convert their flower into oils.

He said there are not enough dispensaries or processing facilities available yet to meet the demand for all the cannabis flower being produced, thereby necessitating that flower to be converted to oils and other concentrates before it becomes too old to sell.

Last year, Fortuna residents and city officials expressed outrage when marijuana farms were being approved just outside city limits without them being able to weigh in. The county had approved these new cannabis farms through zoning clearance certificates, which don’t require a public hearing.

Under the new rules approved Tuesday, the county will impose retroactive rules on cannabis businesses that have already been permitted within a city’s sphere of influence or within 1,000 feet of a city, tribal reservation and certain communities.

These farmers would be mandated to do one of the following: move their cultivation area at least 600 feet away from neighboring residences; move their operations into an enclosed, odor-controlled structure; go through the permitting process again but instead obtain a conditional use permit, which requires a full public hearing; or relinquish the permit altogether or relocate under the county’s farm relocation program.

Humboldt County Growers Alliance Executive Director Terra Carver said requiring growers who were following the rules the county created to now have to move or make costly changes to their farms because Fortuna residents and city officials voiced disagreements after the fact is “unfair, unjust and very impactful.”

So the board added the caveat that if a farm owner or business applicant can demonstrate to the county within 3 months that there is no opposition to their business, they will only have to obtain a special permit. The county will also be required to notify any landowners near these farms as well.

Wilson said he would want farms located in the 11 sensitive or species critical watersheds to adhere to the same retroactive rules in order to better protect the environment. This proposal was not included in the final rules and was one of the factors resulting in Wilson’s dissenting vote.

The board also adopted a 45-day moratorium, which can be extended, that prohibits any cannabis businesses opening on the Yurok Tribe’s ancestral territory, which encompasses a significantly larger area than the tribe’s current reservation boundaries.