The Initiative

Home » The Initiative

The purpose of this Humboldt Cannabis Reform Initiative (“Initiative”) is to protect the County’s residents and natural environment from harm caused by large-scale cannabis cultivation. Specifically, the Initiative seeks to promote environmentally responsible cultivation practices and support watershed health for residents, property owners, and ecosystems affected by cannabis cultivation activities. This Initiative accomplishes its purpose by limiting the number, type and acreage of permits for commercial cannabis cultivation, ensuring greater public participation an official accountability in decision-making, improving permit enforcement and site inspections, reducing potential impacts to streams and watersheds, limiting generator size and usage, and facilitating active coordination with state and federal agencies.


What is the Effective Date of the Cannabis Reform Initiative?


If the ballot measure for the Initiative is approved by the voters on March 5, 2024, the Initiative will become effective after election results are certified, in a process according to state law.  This could take 30 days, or so, or about the end of March or beginning of April 2024.

What type of permits are addressed by the Initiative?


The Initiative addresses only permits for commercial cannabis cultivation.  It does not consider other types of permits, such as for manufacturing, processing, distribution, tourism, etc.

What new requirements would or could be in place for those with currently existing permits?


a. If the County determines that water storage is inadequate to support a proposed or existing operation, water storage must be increased, or the cultivation area must be reduced, such that adequate storage is provided. 

b. The county is required to make at least one on-site, in-person inspection per year; a permit will expire if all requirements have not been met. Permits would have a term of one year and expire if not renewed.   

c.  The county is required to consider and investigate public comments or complaints as part of the annual review process.  

d. The forbearance period for water diversions would be increased by one month. For those with a legal water right to divert water from a stream or river, the new period for allowed water diversion would be from Nov 15 to March 1 (not April 1). 

e. As part of the annual review process the county would be required to assess compliance with the phased-in generator limitations. New and expanded sites permitted after the initiative’s effective date would be limited to one generator rated at 50-hp or less, used for emergency purposes only. These same limitations would be phased in for operations at pre-existing lawfully permitted sites. For permitted pre-existing sites that were established before January 1, 2016, the restrictions would take effect on September 30, 2025. For permitted pre-existing sites that were established after January 1, 2016, the restrictions would take effect on June 30, 2024. Home-use generators are not addressed in the Initiative. 

What limitations are there for obtaining multiple permits after the Effective Date?  What types of permits are affected?


There shall  be no approval of a permit for commercial cannabis cultivation if it results in either a) any one person holding more than one active cultivation permit approved after the Initiative’s Effective Date at the same time or b) more than one active cultivation permit approved after the Effective Date on the same legal parcel at the same time.  

The Initiative’s permit limitations apply only to commercial cannabis cultivation permits. The Initiative’s limitations do not address and are not intended to apply to other permits, such as retail permits, distribution permits, tourist permits, processing permits, etc.

Note:  ‘Person’ is defined as an individual, firm, corporation, partnership, or other business entities with an aggregate ownership interest of at least twenty percent (20%) in the individual or group holding the permit (4.9.3).

How can the Initiative be changed or amended?


Mandated provisions added to the Humboldt County General Plan and Humboldt County Code by the Initiative cannot be removed or changed except by another vote of the people (i.e., by another initiative or by a ballot measure proposed by the Board of Supervisors). 

The Initiative also authorizes the Board of Supervisors, after a duly noticed public hearing, to adopt implementing ordinances, guidelines, rules, and/or regulations, as necessary to further the purposes of the Initiative and that are consistent with its provisions. 

 “Definitions” of the Initiative may be amended by a vote of the Board of Supervisors, without a vote of the people, to conform to future amendments to definitions of the same or similar terms in state statutes and regulations.

Some requirements may be strengthened by the County.  For example, the County may establish a larger (but not smaller) water storage or forbearance period, depending on a water management plan prepared by a qualified person.  The Board of Supervisors also may, by resolution and without a vote of the people, reduce (but not increase) the caps on permits and acres established by the Initiative.

Will the Initiative prohibit businesses or individuals currently holding multiple cannabis cultivation permits from continuing to hold those same multiple cannabis cultivation permits?


No.  After the Effective Date, businesses and individuals will still be able to hold the same multiple cultivation permits that were held prior to the Effective Date.

Under what conditions would new permits for cannabis cultivation be allowed in the future?


The number of cannabis cultivation permits allowed in the county will be capped at a level 5% above the number of existing, approved, unexpired cultivation permits in each of several “planning watersheds” and coastal planning areas as of March 4, 2022. Permit applications that were pending and complete as of March 4, 2022 can still be approved by the County regardless of the cap. Depending on the watershed, new permits for cannabis cultivation may become available if the number of permits in a watershed or coastal planning area drops below the “cap” for that watershed or planning area for whatever reason.  Any new cultivation permit must be <10,000 sq ft.    

How will the Initiative provide for more public involvement? 


a. The County shall provide public notice of proposed commercial cannabis cultivation applications in a variety of forms so as to ensure that all persons who may be affected by proposed cultivation operations are reasonably likely to receive actual notice.

b. Applications for new or expanded cultivation permits more than 3000 sq ft shall not be approved by zoning clearance or other ministerial approval processes; rather, they shall require a conditional use permit, special permit, or other discretionary permit.   

c. Public hearings on commercial cannabis cultivation permit applications shall not be waived.

d. Permits shall not be renewed unless the County has considered and investigated any and all comments and complaints received from members of the public concerning the commercial   cannabis operation’s compliance with permit conditions or applicable laws.

How would the Initiative be enforced and defended? 


The Board of Supervisors is mandated [by the Initiative] to take all steps reasonably necessary to enforce the Initiative and to defend it against any challenge to its validity.

Would changes to the County’s definition of “Outdoor” cultivation increase taxes on growers who pull tarps for light deprivation?


The Initiative’s definitions of Outdoor, Mixed-Light, and Indoor cultivation are consistent with California state regulations. Nothing in the Initiative was intended to change how current operations are taxed. The Initiative doesn’t even mention taxation. If the Initiative passes, it would not prevent the Board of Supervisors from either maintaining its current approach to taxes or changing its approach in the future.

Does the Initiative require onsite visits from county staff before renewing permits?


Yes. The Initiative mandates at least one annual on-site, in-person inspection as a condition for permit renewal, to ensure compliance with all requirements. This provision was included because the County’s current ordinances have a huge loophole that essentially allows growers to inspect themselves. It’s hard to imagine restaurants or building contractors, for example, being allowed to inspect themselves and self-certify whether they’re complying with health and safety requirements in the County code. The Initiative’s inspection requirement was motivated by considerable public concern about non-compliance by growers, and about the County’s failure to respond to, and to take action on, public complaints about non-compliance. 

How is the County supposed to pay for additional inspections? 


The County can pay for these inspections if it wants to, that is from general tax revenue. Other businesses and permit applicants, however, routinely pay fees that cover the costs of inspection, whether for a septic system, a remodel, new home construction, or the like. Of course, the fee would have to be fair, appropriate, and no higher than necessary to cover the County’s costs. Growers often object that fees and taxes are already too high, but this has more to do with the low wholesale price of cannabis than with the fair cost of following the law, as all regulated businesses have to do. It is not fair for growers to ask the community as a whole to subsidize a difficult cannabis market by sacrificing enforcement of health, safety, and welfare requirements.

Why should growers be required to have any complaints from neighbors dealt with before permit applications or renewals can be granted?


This provision is appropriate because the current County cannabis ordinance fails to ensure that rural residents, who may be affected by a cannabis operation, are adequately notified about permit applications. Also, there is no formal process for public input with respect to non-compliance issues or other concerns related to public safety, health, and welfare. The Initiative simply ensures that the people have a right to be heard. Growers complain that the process could be abused, but County inspectors will be able to figure out whether permittees are in compliance or not. Agencies deal with this all the time, and they can sort out meritorious and non-meritorious complaints. Speculation that someone might call in a bogus complaint is no excuse for depriving the whole community of its voice.

Will the Initiative require new permits and Category 4 roads for newly permitted farms or for any farm undertaking an “expansion”?


Even without the Initiative, the County’s ordinance already requires roads providing access to cannabis cultivation parcels or premises to meet Category 4 road standards (or the same “practical effect”). However, the current ordinance allows the applicant—who may not have any expertise in road design or construction—to provide “self-certification” that the roads meet the Category 4 standard. The Initiative would require a licensed engineer to make the certification instead.

The new certification requirement would apply to applications for new or expanded commercial cannabis cultivation permits or applications for expanded commercial cannabis cultivation activities. Not all changes to an existing operation would be “expansions”, though. The Initiative defines an expansion as an increase in the size, intensity, or resource usage of cannabis cultivation operations (including increases in cultivation area, water or energy use, or the size and number of structures). This is important to avoid creating a loophole where growers could continually expand their operations regardless of the Initiative. Changes that reduce water or energy use, or that simply replace structures without enlarging them, however, likely would not be interpreted as expansions.

Would the Initiative interfere with a Cal F&W requirement to add new water tanks or trigger a certification that Category 4 road standards have been met?


Adding new water tanks might be interpreted as an expansion and might require modification of an existing permit. Where an existing farm had previously self-certified that all roads met the Category 4 standard, a new expansion might require an engineer to verify that claim, which would be appropriate. Poorly designed and maintained roads are a huge environmental and water quality problem. People without adequate expertise should not be making self-interested judgments about whether their roads meet technical standards.

If the roads do not meet the Category 4 standard, the County’s existing ordinances already provide an alternative process for getting permits approved. The Initiative would not affect this alternative process at all. Furthermore, under the existing alternative process, an engineer’s report considers whether the proposed changes would increase traffic volumes and whether the existing roads can handle the increase. Adding water tanks or replacing generators with solar panels might actually reduce traffic volumes by eliminating the need to haul water and fuel. In other words, there’s no basis for believing that the Initiative precludes growers from adding water storage capacity.

Would the Initiative limit new and expanded permits to outdoor/mixed light less than 10,000 sq ft of cultivation or nursery, thus excluding the possibility for other types of permits, such as for ecotourism, distribution, etc.?


No. The Initiative is intended to address only commercial cannabis cultivation permits, not “ecotourism” or distribution permits. The Initiative simply limits total cultivation area—defined as the area actually containing growing cannabis plants—to 10,000 square feet for new and expanded commercial cannabis cultivation. The Initiative does not limit the square footage of structures that are not used for cultivation. The Initiative does cap the total number of cultivation permits in the County and prevents issuance of new cultivation permits to applicants who already hold existing, active cultivation permits. But the Initiative is not intended to affect or restrict any type of permit other than commercial cannabis cultivation permits. 

Yes on Measure A. Primarily Formed Ballot Initiative Committee California FPPC #1443594