Last week, a host of county supervisors and administrative staff from San Francisco to Modoc counties walked off a bus into a Humboldt County marijuana farm. For some, according to Humboldt County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman and 4th District Supervisor Virginia Bass, it was the first time they had ever seen a marijuana farm.
“It looked like any other farm,” Bass said Friday, recounting the trip. “The cultivator was telling us the story of his family who had been there for generations and how they would have to hide. Not only was it about how the business is evolving, there are people that are naturally comfortable being in front of elected officials telling them about growing cannabis. That didn’t dawn on people for awhile.”
Bass said it was also her first time visiting a marijuana farm.
The tour of the marijuana farm and a marijuana processing and manufacturing facility in Arcata were part of a California State Association of Counties conference prepping Northern California county regulators for the advent of the adult use marijuana market in 2018. More than 60 representatives from 17 counties attended to tour the marijuana facilities and hear a series of panels at the Ingomar Club in Eureka’s historic Carson Mansion.
Bass, who serves as the association’s second vice president, said it was the largest-ever attendance for an association regional conference.
Bass said local officials had the opportunity to share lessons learned by Humboldt County, the first county in the state to adopt commercial medical marijuana rules following the expansion of the state’s medical cannabis market in January 2016.
Some of the counties represented at the conference were not as keen to the idea of a marijuana marketplace, but Bass said some warmed up to the industry after visiting a marijuana farm for the first time.
“I think the supervisors that came here, some of them in the beginning seemed very reluctant when we went on the tour,” Bass said. “They didn’t want to be in the pictures. But by the time we got done with that first tour, they were wearing hats from Emerald Family Farms.”
Thursday’s conference included several panels with local and state officials on how counties can work together with each other and the cannabis industry when drafting regulations, environmental considerations, and where the state’s recreational and medical cannabis laws currently stand.
“All the [counties] are having to pay attention whether or not they are really inclined [to marijuana],” 2nd District Humboldt County Supervisor and association representative Estelle Fennell said. “This was to help people along that haven’t been doing it to figure out how to get something in the works before January 2018. Everybody is in the same boat and we can help each other. It was really clear that working with our other counties and the cities, everybody kind of gives each other the lessons that we learned. That’s very, very instructive.”
Local speakers included county Planning and Building Director John Ford, county Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Dolf and Humboldt Growers Alliance Executive Director Terra Carver.
“From prohibition to permitting, the industry is interested in coming out of the shadows and working with local government to come into compliance and do our part to ensure for a safe and well-regulated market place,” Carver said in a statement.
Both Fennell and Bass said the conference and the tours also represented a significant change for the California State Association of Counties, which they said was initially very reluctant to take on cannabis issues. Fennell said the association has recently created a finance committee to tackle federal banking restrictions that are impeding the cannabis industry from paying taxes like other businesses and even from opening bank accounts.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.