With more than 1,000 marijuana business applications still left to process and the statewide marijuana market opener fast approaching, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors took steps Tuesday to attempt to give the local industry a chance in the state’s cannabis economy.
County Planning and Building Director John Ford said that the economy and health of the local community is at stake with the advent of a legal marijuana market.
“One of the things we are doing is we are trying to enable Humboldt County to be in a position to be competitive at the state level when it comes to licensing,” Ford said to the board.
The changes adopted by the board in a unanimous vote Tuesday will allow existing permit holders under the county’s current medical marijuana laws to apply for a state permit to sell nonmedical cannabis. Hundreds of people who are still attempting to complete their permits will also be allowed to obtain a temporary county permit in order to allow them to apply for a state license. California cannabis businesses must have both a state and local license in order to be legal.
THE FUTURE OF CANNABIS
The proposed changes to the county’s cannabis rules Tuesday were created in an effort to maintain local control of the industry, Ford told the board.
Humboldt County’s legal cannabis industry is limited to medical marijuana. The county is working to expand this through new regulations that will allow for nonmedical or recreational cannabis businesses, larger cannabis grows and new business types such as tourism and “bud-and-breakfasts.”
The county planning commission is set to review these expanded rules at its Thursday evening meeting in Eureka.
However, Ford said these expanded regulations will not be completed by the time the state’s cannabis market comes online in early January. If the county does not have regulations or a prohibition on recreational marijuana businesses in place by then, the state will assume it can permit nonmedical marijuana businesses in the county, according to Ford.
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To address this, the board voted Tuesday to expand the county’s medical cannabis rules to also apply to recreational cannabis businesses.
The board also adopted a program that will allow the county to issue temporary permits. This program will only be available to local cannabis farmers that had operations existing before Jan. 1, 2016. Ford said the county already allows existing cultivators to continue growing up to what they previously had been as long as they are in the process of obtaining a county permit.
The temporary permit would formally recognize that and allow those cultivators to apply for a state license. The cultivator would have to sign a compliance agreement with the county in which they will be mandated to complete their county permit application by July 2018. If they fail to do so or violate any state or local laws, such as expanding the grow size before being permitted, Ford said the applicant will be barred from being permitted.
“There is no increased environmental effect from issuing these interim permits,” Ford said.
About 725 applicants will be eligible for the temporary permits, Ford said.
Ford said there have been internal department discussions about setting a Dec. 31 deadline to apply for a temporary permit. The reason for this, Ford said, was because some individuals may be intentionally holding off on finishing their permits until 2018 so that they won’t have to pay the county’s cultivation tax for 2017.
Ford estimates the department and consultant groups helping the county process permits have up to 270 permits that only require a small piece of information, even just a signature, before they are deemed completed.
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The interim permit program was lauded by Humboldt County Growers Alliance members and cannabis farmers. Full Moon Farms Nickolai Erickson of Dinsmore called the program a “crucial next step for small farms” that are working to bring their farms and properties into compliance with local and state laws.
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said state and local agencies tasked with regulating and processing cannabis permits can also contribute to the time it takes for someone’s permit to be approved.
“I really don’t think people that have filled in wetlands, that have done all the diversions are going to be coming into the fold. I don’t think we’re going to see that,” Bohn said. “I think they are going to stay part of the 8,000 or 9,000 [grows] that we haven’t seen anything yet.
“I support this just so we can get something moving along and we can show something to the effect that we’re getting something done and give planning and building another tool to [expedite] the process,” he continued.
Ford said they are “still full speed ahead” on processing permits, but won’t have all of them completed by the end of the year.
“The interim permit is critical in order to allow our permittees to be competitive for those licenses, to establish themselves in the retail environment, the wholesale environment at the state level,” Ford said.
The changes adopted Tuesday will take effect Dec. 15.
The board also voted unanimously to extend a previous ban on cannabis businesses from opening in coastal zones in unincorporated areas of the county by about two years. The board implemented a 45-day ban in October in order to maintain local control. Ford said they expect the California Coastal Commission will consider the county’s proposed cannabis rules for the coastal zones by mid-2018.
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