Several fast-approaching changes are coming to Humboldt County’s marijuana market, according to county planning staff on Tuesday.

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors directed planning staff this week to begin drafting the next phase of regulations to expand the county’s existing commercial medical marijuana market.

Some of the changes recommended by the board and industry stakeholders included allowing for recreational marijuana businesses, expanding areas where new cultivation can occur, addressing proximity concerns to local communities, odor control and solid waste disposal.

“I will say it’s going to happen really, really fast,” Humboldt County Planning and Building Director John Ford said.

Ford told the board there is a tight timeline to draft these regulations as well as complete a full environmental review before the state’s medical and recreational marijuana markets open in January 2018.


Since the county implemented its first-ever regulations for the commercial medical marijuana industry in January 2016, staff have said there have been some unintended consequences.

Prices for land parcels with prime agricultural soils have skyrocketed as they are currently the only areas where new marijuana cultivation can occur. Communities like Fortuna have been in an uproar after cannabis farms near their neighborhood received permits without the need to be vetted in a public hearing.

The next phase of regulations that will be drafted in the coming months seeks to address those and many other lessons learned in the past year.

To address the prime agricultural parcel issue, the county will now consider allowing new cultivation on other types of agricultural lands as long as they meet certain requirements. Earlier in the meeting, county Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Dolf stated many cultivators do not use the native soil on the prime agricultural lands to grow their cannabis, but use imported soils instead.


Prices for land parcels with prime agricultural soils in Humboldt County have skyrocketed as they are currently the only areas where new marijuana cultivation can occur. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

“Some of these prices for prime ag are just going through the roof,” 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn said. “… Nobody is using the prime ag to [cultivate]. It’s almost ridiculous to cover up prime ag lands so they can bring in three truckloads of soil.”

Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said she could guarantee that opening up more lands for new cultivation would also alleviate concerns raised by Fortuna residents about the proximity of farms to residential neighborhoods and areas near the city’s sphere of influence.

Humboldt Boutique Gardens owner Ian Herndon is currently working to obtain an indoor cultivation permit in the Fortuna area. Herndon stated that many cannabis businesses will need to be close to existing developed areas due to their proximity to utilities. But he said he also understands there is “a lot of fear of the unknown” when a new industry moves in next door.

“I believe the industry comes to the table in the spirit of cooperation to help build bridges, not walls,” he said.

As a way to appease the concerns like those in Fortuna, Herndon recommended the county take into consideration the type of cannabis business and its proximity to communities to determine whether a public hearing should be held for the permit application.

Fennell concurred with Herndon.

“I think, somewhere in there, there does have to be that component that the neighbors have a chance to give input,” she said.

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson called for staff to look into regulations for solid waste disposal, noise and light pollution. Ford stated the original ordinance already regulates light pollution, but will look to see if any other improvements can be made.

Bohn and Fennell also expressed concern about a proposal requiring cannabis businesses to be within a certain proximity to county roads and state highways. They stated that this could harm cannabis businesses in the tourism market.

Planning staff anticipates bringing the new regulations to the board in October.

Earlier in the meeting, the board voted unanimously to direct staff to begin drafting changes to county building codes to allow raised greenhouses to be constructed on prime agricultural lands. The direction was made after cannabis cultivator Miles Raymer of Northern Emeralds submitted an inquiry to Dolf.

Raymer told the board the raised greenhouse would work to preserve prime agricultural soils while also providing benefits for their cannabis farm such as preventing soil contamination and allowing for rainwater catchment.

Marijuana Ordinance Changes

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors directed staff to draft the following changes and amendments to its existing commercial cannabis regulations on Tuesday:

  • Repeal the deadline for permit application submission and continue to accept applications.
  • Allow for recreational cannabis businesses to open under the same regulations as medical cannabis.
  • Expand areas where new cultivation or expansion of existing cultivation sites will be permitted at locations with or without prime agricultural soils that are planned and zoned for agricultural use, meeting specific criteria to be established:
    – natural slopes of 15 percent or less;
    – in lower portions of principal watersheds where established riparian water rights exist;
    – with viable local on-site water source;
    – located on or within 1 mile of county-maintained roads;
    – or located on adequately maintained private road systems;
    – with on-grid power or alternative energy source (solar, wind, or micro-hydro);
  • Restrict or prohibit generator use.
  • Reduce noise and light pollution from cannabis operations.
  • Limit new cultivation or expansion to areas not requiring conversion of timberland.
  • Provide for a micro-business license type
  • Apply special requirements and limitations for projects located within community areas or other spheres of influence.
  • Provide consistency with state medical and recreational cannabis regulations.
  • Provide consistency with forthcoming rules for diversion and use of water for cannabis cultivation to be prepared by the State Water Resources Control Board in consultation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
  • Allow for additional amendments to existing ordinance rules including application requirements, performance standards, general provisions, and permit types.
  • Amendments to other relevant provisions of Humboldt County code including county code enforcement provisions, the Humboldt County Streamside Management Area Ordinance and county business license provisions.

Source: Humboldt County Planning and Building Department