Northern California

Huge backlog awaits cannabis-permit applicants in Humboldt County

Fewer than 100 of the 2,314 medical marijuana business permit applications submitted to the Humboldt County Planning and Building Department are complete and ready for review.

“The remaining applications are not ready to process,” department Director John Ford wrote in an email to the (Eureka) Times-Standard on Thursday. “We anticipate all of the complete applications will be taken for action by end of the year. Beyond that it is difficult to project when applications will be complete and ready to proceed through the review process.”

Between February and December 2016, the county received more than 2,300 permit applications from prospective marijuana business owners and cultivators, with about 1,400 applications being turned in during the last two weeks of December alone.

Eight county planners and an administrative analyst are now tasked with sorting through and bringing these applications to completion.

“This is sufficient for the volume of applications that are complete and is expected to be sustainable at the rate applications are being brought to completion,” Ford wrote in response to a question about staffing levels. “We continue to look for staff that can help out and will continue to bring on help to address increased permit demand.”

Like any other permits it deals with, the department recovers the costs it takes to process these applications from the applicants. For cannabis permits alone, Ford said the county has collected about $6.5 million.

So far, 18 permits have been approved by the county. As to how the department will work through the remaining 2,296, Ford wrote, “It is largely based on the date applications are deemed complete.

The Humboldt County Planning and Building Department office in Eureka is packed with prospective marijuana business owners working to turn in their applications just minutes before the 4 p.m. deadline on Dec. 30, 2016. (Will Houston/Eureka Times-Standard)

“The initial sort was to determine which applications were complete and ready for processing and which applications needed information required to allow consideration,” he continued. “We are attempting to make sure the less complicated Zoning Clearance Certificates move forward as these do not require public hearing or noticing.”

Even when applications are completed, they are being met with resistance by some communities such as Garberville, which successfully convinced the county Planning Commission to reject a proposed cannabis transportation depot. A McKinleyville concentrate and edible manufacturing facility is also facing resistance from neighbors and has been appealed to the Planning Commission.

Simultaneous to its permit processing efforts, the Planning and Building Department is also working to expand the scope of the industry to allow for more medical cannabis businesses to open in areas where they are currently restricted as well as open up the county to the new recreational marijuana market. Before it can do this, the county must conduct a full environmental impact review as part of a legal settlement with the Humboldt-Mendocino Marijuana Advocacy Project made last year.

The county stopped accepting new cannabis business permits as of Dec. 30, 2016 and will not accept more until the review is completed.

County Senior Planner Steve Lazar said that the county is working to find a third-party organization to conduct the environmental review. The planning department is expecting to go before the county Board of Supervisors in the coming months to discuss the final details of what the environmental review will encompass as well as the timeline, Lazar said.

Whether the White House statements will influence the scope of the county’s environmental review is unknown.

President Donald Trump’s Administration has signaled in the past few weeks that it is not favorable to states like California that have legalized nonmedical marijuana use and sales. California legislators — including North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) — have already introduced a bill that would bar state and local agencies from aiding federal efforts to crackdown on marijuana consumers or businesses that are following state laws.

But even the county’s current medical cannabis regulations are still not entirely in effect. The commercial ordinance as well as the county’s other cannabis regulations on small personal grows and marijuana dispensaries are only effective for areas outside of the coastal zone and can only be extended to the coastal zones with approval by the California Coastal Commission.

In a January letter to the county, the commission included a laundry list of additional information and clarification it wants the county to provide.

Lazar said the commission will likely not vote on the regulations this year.