At their Aug. 18 meeting, the Planning Commission voted 4 to 1 against approving a draft ordinance that focused on indoor growing and dispensaries. The draft was written with input from dispensary owners, the Humboldt Growers Association (HGA) and HUMMAP, the Humboldt Medical Marijuana Advisory Panel, in response to a request from the Board of Supervisors to take a phased approach to regulating medical marijuana. The Supervisors directed planning staff to deal first with indoor cultivation and dispensaries in Phase 1 and cover outdoor cultivation in Phase 2.
Provisions of the draft prohibited dispensaries from growing marijuana to the flowering stage, eliminated the need for a special permit for residential cultivation exceeding 50 square feet and eliminated the allowance of electrical use beyond 1,200 watts with inspection by a licensed contractor. The ordinance also defined zones where dispensaries could be located and attempted to establish limits of dispensaries from sensitive areas such as schools and playgrounds.
Planning Commissioners heard testimony of dispensary owners from Arcata and unincorporated areas around Eureka objecting to the restriction on growing plants to flowering stage. They also received a letter from a resident in Willow Creek who complained about the odor of marijuana emanating from an outdoor medical marijuana growing operation in their neighborhood. In the discussion, commissioners could not agree to pass the draft ordinance because it didn't deal with outdoor growing. Commissioner Ralph Faust said he saw “huge holes” in the ordinance. Commissioner Linda Disiere objected to the “piecemeal” approach. Only Commissioner Mel Kreb favored approving the ordinance with the understanding that Phase 2 would deal with the outdoor issues.
The rejection came as a blow to the members of HGA and HUMMAP who had responded to the commissioners' request to “educate” them on the marijuana industry. HGA member Matt Scott says that they visited each of the commissioners, including a visit to Commissioner Denver Nelson's dairy farm, to give them information about the industry.
”We didn't see this coming,” Scott says.
He says that indoor cultivation is actually in decline because the costs of indoor growing are up and the price is down, even though dispensaries get a commercial rate on their electrical use. Scott says that Phase 2 is already being written. Overall, the idea is that dispensaries will contract with small farmers, outdoor mostly, in much the same way that a dairy producer like Humboldt Dairy contracts with individual farmers to buy milk.
At the Aug. 18 meeting, Planning Director Kirk Girard acknowledged that part of the rationale of the draft ordinance was to create a legal space for outdoor medical marijuana growers.
Scott says that many small growers in rural areas want to be permitted and that dispensaries throughout the state are interested in buying medical marijuana from permitted medical marijuana farmers. The efforts to educate consumers about the advantages of organic outdoor marijuana are paying off in terms of increased consumer demand.
Scott and other activists feel they didn't get their message across at the Aug. 18 meeting and they are gearing up to support their cause when the ordinance comes before the Board of Supervisors. It had been hoped that this would happen on Sept. 13, but it won't be on the agenda until sometime in Oct.
Second District Supervisor Clif Clendenen says complaints about the odor of marijuana in residential neighborhoods are something supervisors hear a lot. Everyone has a right to enjoy their own property, he says. When it comes to outdoor cultivation by patients, the thorny issue of setbacks arises in residential neighborhoods and the right of the patient to grow conflicts with the right of neighbors not to be subjected to offensive odors.
Clendenen says that he feels all the supervisors want to avoid any “Oakland-style” cultivation in the county and to encourage smaller outdoor grows.
First District Supervisor Jimmy Smith says he is also concerned about marijuana grows in residential areas.
”I believe neighborhoods will be safer with some regulation of plants in areas of concentrated development,” he wrote in an email to this reporter. “We talked about a phased approach so that we can discuss the residential issue and dispensaries. We have no ordinance parameters for dispensaries and there is a lot of interest.”
Smith writes that he believes the land use issues will require more thought and time. He says the supervisors are also concerned about possible federal preemption.
In the meantime, the Supervisors will be meeting today, Sept. 6, and the agenda will include a presentation by Mendocino Sheriff Tom Allman about that county's outdoor cultivation ordinance.