Some Southern Humboldt County marijuana farmers are facing a peculiar obstacle in their efforts to join the legalized market: school bus stops.
The county’s commercial marijuana rules require cannabis cultivation and processing to be located at least 600 feet away from sites like churches, schools and school bus stops. This poses a problem for the Southern Humboldt Unified School District, which has about 75 bus stops throughout a district area that is about half the size of Rhode Island in a region known worldwide for its cannabis cultivation.
In November 2016, the district was “inundated” with calls from a handful of marijuana farmers asking to have the bus stops moved so they could become compliant, the district’s Board of Trustees President Dennis O’Sullivan said Wednesday.
“We realize our school bus stops are in safe locations,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re not going to move them down the road to infringe on someone else’s permitting process or legal business.”
After receiving multiple calls from cannabis farmers over the past five months, the Southern Humboldt Unified School District Board of Trustees voted to approve a waiver on Thursday that will allow legal cannabis farms to be located within 600 feet or less from school bus stops.
“I want it to be clear: regardless if they file for a waiver or not, that doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to get it,” district board trustee Thomas Mulder said Friday.
The district also made it clear this week that it will not be moving bus stops for cannabis cultivators, but it also did not want to deter farmers from becoming legal.
As the CEO of Humboldt Redwood Healing, which has several cannabis farms in southern Humboldt County, Mulder said he understands the farmers’ concerns and how difficult the permit process can be. However, he said that these farmers had plenty of time to address this issue as the county’s 600-foot setback rule was put into effect in February 2016. Mulder stated none of the farms associated with his business are located near district bus stops.
The waiver approved by the district board of trustees would allow cannabis farmers to be located within 600 feet of district bus stops, as long as those farmers are in the process of applying for county permits. Applicants will have to pay a $1,000 fee for the waiver, which Mulder said is nonrefundable. The funds will be used for the district staff time needed to inspect the individual sites — some of which are about an hour away from the district’s Miranda office — and review the cultivation permit applications. The original draft proposed a $200 fee, but the board did not believe this would cover the actual costs.
The board also removed language that stated the fees would be used for the school’s anti-drug programs. Mulder said if there are any leftover funds, the board can allocate those to those programs.
The waiver proposal was approved in a 3-1-1 vote, with board trustee Scotty McClure opposing and board trustee Barbara Lindsay absent, according to O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan said McClure cited concerns that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would pull funding from the school district for accepting payments from cannabis businesses, which are considered illegal under federal law.
Attempts to contact McClure were not returned Friday.
The district’s regulations state that no federal or state funding will be used in the waiver process.
“We felt comfortable with that wording,” O’Sullivan said.
Waiver applications will be reviewed by the district superintendent once per year before the new school year begins. Applications for this year are due by June 1, but will be due by April 1 in subsequent years.
When it comes to safety of students, O’Sullivan said he is more concerned about some of the problem areas and people around town that kids have to walk past when walking to and from the bus stops.
O’Sullivan said the district will no consider whether to grant another type of waiver for cannabis businesses located within 600 feet of a school campus, which he said requires a different discussion altogether.
“I don’t know how that will turn out,” O’Sullivan said.