Myth: The Initiative would require a vote of the people for all future changes to Humboldt’s cannabis ordinances.
Reality: The Initiative prevents a future Board of Supervisors from watering down essential protections while preserving flexibility to achieve the Initiative’s core purposes.
- The specific provisions of the Initiative adopted by a vote of the people would take a vote of the people to change (see Sections 2, 4, 5, and 10).
- That’s how initiatives protect the people’s right to direct democracy. If future Boards of Supervisors could just overturn everything the voters enact, the initiative power would be meaningless.
- But this doesn’t mean every future change to Humboldt’s cannabis ordinances would require a vote of the people.
- Other parts of the ordinance can be changed without a vote of the people so long as the changes are consistent with the Initiative and the rest of the General Plan.
- The Initiative (in Section 7.F) creates even greater flexibility by allowing the Board of Supervisors to adopt “implementing ordinances” as necessary to further the Initiative’s purposes. Implementing ordinances would not require a vote of the people unless they changed the Initiative’s actual text.
- If a vote on something were required, the Board of Supervisors could put a question to voters without having to go through the signature-gathering process required for an initiative.
Myth: The Initiative’s definition of “expanded” activities will interfere with environmentally protective actions (like adding water storage tanks or solar panels) and will trigger other onerous requirements for small farms.
Reality: The Initiative defines “expanded” to mean what common sense says it means: increasing the amount of cultivation or the use of water, energy, and other resources. Actions that reduce energy usage, or increase water storage without increasing water use, aren’t “expanded” uses.
- References to “structures” must be understood in the context of the Initiative’s environmentally protective purposes. Section 9 says the Initiative “shall be broadly construed in order to achieve its purpose.” Adding or replacing a “structure” in a way that does not increase cultivation, energy, or water usage should not be considered an “expanded” use.
- The Initiative’s environmental purposes are laid out very clearly in Section 1.A.: protecting against harm from large-scale cultivation, promoting environmentally responsible practices, and supporting watershed health. The Initiative itself (in Section 9) says it must be interpreted broadly to achieve, not defeat, its own purposes.
- For these reasons, the Initiative should not (and by its terms cannot) be interpreted as precluding changes to existing facilities that reduce environmental impacts or energy usage. The Initiative therefore does not preclude installation of solar panels or other renewable energy sources to replace grid or generator electricity. Nor does the Initiative prevent installation of water storage that reduces reliance on diversions or wells. The Initiative will not interfere with grants to increase renewable energy usage or water efficiency.
- The Initiative is not ambiguous, but to the extent there’s any concern about ambiguity, the County can address this in implementation in order to advance the Initiative’s purpose (Section 7.F).
- It’s true that Policy CC-P2 will prevent further expansion of existing farms over 10,000 square feet. One purpose of the Initiative is to limit the further growth of large-scale cultivation.
- However, the Initiative protects vested rights for all existing, lawfully permitted operations. Consistent with vested rights principles, Policy CC-P2 allows renewal of existing permits for larger farms, just not expansion of those farms.
Myth: The Initiative will require existing small farmers to improve their roads to Category 4 standards.
Reality: The Initiative DOES NOT AFFECT the County’s application of road standards, with only one exception: In cases where the existing Ordinance (2.0) already requires roads to meet Category 4 standards, the Initiative will require an engineer (rather than the applicant alone) to verify compliance.
- The current Ordinance 2.0 allows applicants themselves to make a determination as to whether their roads meet Category 4 standards. Many applicants are not qualified to make that determination.
- The Initiative requires a qualified engineer to provide a report supporting an applicant’s claim of Category 4 compliance where Category 4 compliance is already required anyway. That’s all Policy CC-P13 says, and that’s all the Initiative’s amendments to the Ordinance are intended to do.
- The Initiative doesn’t do anything else to any of the Ordinance’s road standards or exemptions from the road standards. So the County can continue to apply those standards and exemptions just as it did before, with only one exception—claims of Category 4 compliance must be supported by an engineer’s report.
Myth: The Initiative will prevent farmers from obtaining permits for nurseries as well as for non-cultivation activities like distribution, sales, and on-site tourism.
Reality: The Initiative limits multiple cultivation permits, not permits for other activities.
- The Initiative addresses commercial cannabis cultivation permits, not bed-and-breakfast permits or dispensary permits or tourism permits. This is plain from the language of Policy CC-P5, which explicitly references “permit[s] for commercial cannabis cultivation.” Later references to a “permit” in the same sentence are to permits for commercial cannabis cultivation.
- The Initiative’s provisions have to be understood in the context of its purposes. Those purposes do not include interpreting the Initiative in a way that defeats its objectives.
- The Initiative does not and cannot override state law. State law may require separate licenses for cultivation and nurseries, but nothing in the Initiative would prevent the County from addressing cultivation, nurseries, processing, and other on-site activities in a single permit. To the extent any changes to the existing Ordinance are necessary to combine permits, the Board of Supervisors could adopt those changes without a vote of the people, provided they are consistent with the policies and purposes of the Initiative.
- The Initiative isn’t ambiguous on this point. However, under Section 7.F., the Board of Supervisors could address any perceived ambiguity in an implementing ordinance designed to further the Initiative’s core purpose of promoting a small-scale, high-quality, environmentally sustainable cannabis industry.
Myth: The Initiative will leave farmers with no defense against bad-faith neighbor complaints.
Reality: The Initiative ensures that legitimate complaints are taken seriously.
- The Initiative does not say that permits can’t be renewed if a neighbor has complained.
- All the initiative says is that complaints have to be considered and investigated. If a complaint is legitimate, it should be resolved before a permit is renewed. But nothing in the Initiative requires the County to hold up renewals due to illegitimate, bad-faith complaints.
- The Initiative simply ensures that the voices of those affected by commercial cultivation are heard and taken seriously in the process.
Myth: The Initiative will interfere with permits that were in process prior to March 4, 2022.
Reality: The Initiative allows the County to finish processing and to approve permit applications that were complete before March 4, 2022, regardless of the Initiative’s permit “caps.”
- The Initiative exempts permit applications that were already complete and in process as of March 4, 2022 (the date of the Initiative’s submittal) from operation of the permitting “caps.”
- The reference to a “complete” application is not ambiguous. The Initiative says the County may continue processing applications that the County itself determines were “complete” as of March 4, 2022.Whether an application was “complete” at that time is up to the County, which has considerable experience in processing development applications and determining whether applications are “complete.”
- To the extent there’s any question about what constitutes a “complete” application, the Board of Supervisors could address this point in an implementing ordinance consistent with the Initiative’s express purposes.
- Applications that were filed after March 4, 2022, or deemed complete after that date, would be subject to the permit “caps” in the Initiative. However, to the extent an applicant obtained a vested right in any such permit prior to the Effective Date, the Initiative would protect that vested right.
Myth: The Initiative will interfere with vested rights and property rights.
Reality: The initiative expressly protects vested and constitutional rights, and it ensures consistency with other state and federal laws.
- There is no such thing as a vested right in a permit application. A vested right arises only where a permit has been granted and the permit holder undertakes concrete actions in reliance on the permit.
- Section 6.A provides that “Nothing in this Initiative shall apply to prohibit any person or entity from exercising a vested right obtained pursuant to local or State law as of the Effective Date of this Initiative.”
- Section 6.B provides that the Initiative “shall not apply” to the extent it would violate the Constitution or federal or state law.
- Section 6.C provides exemptions in the unlikely event the Initiative might take private property.
- Section 9 says the Initiative must be interpreted so as to be consistent with all applicable state and federal laws.
Myth: The Initiative will attract litigation.
Reality: No ordinance can prevent people from filing lawsuits, even when they have no merit. But the County has not identified anything unlawful in the Initiative and the Board of Supervisors already voted to put it on the ballot.