In the press

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Throughout the county, common problems are voiced related to large mega-grows and the legal and illegal taking of water that has impacted neighbors, livestock, wildlife and watersheds.

Read Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report – Did they Listen?

Response to Letter to the Editor of Redheaded Blackbelt of April 30, 2022, ‘‘Watch Out for the Humboldt County Cannabis Reform Initiative” by Mark Thurmond, Elizabeth Watson

Allison Shore’s April 30, 2022, letter to the editor about the Humboldt Cannabis Reform Initiative repeats several misconceptions and misunderstandings that have been circulating in the community. As the sponsors of the Initiative, we’re hoping we can help clear things up.

Changes to the County’s definition of “Outdoor” cultivation would 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 wouldn not prevent the Board of Supervisors from either maintaining its current approach to taxes or changing its approach in the future. And, the County has recently shown an inclination to treat growers quite favorably with respect to taxes.  

Requires onsite visits from county staff before renewing permits: 

This is correct. 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. 

The County can pay for these inspections if it wants to. Other businesses and permit applicants 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. We don’t think it’s 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.

Requires any complaints from neighbors to be dealt with before permit renewals can be granted.

This is correct, and we think it’s appropriate. 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.

Requires new permits and Category 4 roads to each new farm or any farm undertaking an “expansion”:

Even without the Initiative, the County’s ordinances already require 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.

It’s true that 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. We think that is appropriate. Poorly designed and maintained roads are a huge environmental and water quality problem. People without adequate expertise shouldn’t be making self-interested judgments about whether their roads meet technical standards.

And if the roads don’t meet the Category 4 standard, the County’s existing ordinance already provides 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.

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

This is false. 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 doesn’t limit the square footage of structures that aren’t 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. 

“Meanwhile, a glut of cannabis from corporate-scale farms has sent wholesale prices into a tailspin, leaving some growers unable to make a profit. -Robert Sutherland “Meanwhile, a glut of cannabis from corporate-scale farms has sent wholesale prices into a tailspin, leaving some growers unable to make a profit.” -Robert Sutherland 

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