Despite the implementation of new medical and recreational marijuana laws in California, the criminal aspects of the cannabis industry have not been forgotten in Humboldt County, making some communities reluctant to accept the newly regulated market with open arms.
This occurred on Thursday when the Humboldt County Planning Commission voted 4-2 this week to reject a business permit for a medical marijuana transportation depot in Garberville despite it having the proper zoning and county staff’s blessing.
The main arguments presented by neighbors and local law enforcement against the cannabis warehouse included traffic congestion and security risks, though some who spoke at Thursday’s meeting had an outright disagreement with marijuana and the fact that the proposed owners live out of the area.
“This is just one more example of how the marijuana industry is ruining the quality of life for the people that live here,” one woman said to the commission Thursday night. “… The permits and licenses are just state-sanctioned environmental damage.”
Commissioner David Edmonds was one of the four commissioners who voted to reject the proposal and was the only one to explain his reasoning at Thursday’s meeting. Edmonds stated he visited the site and spoke with a couple of passerbys and some deputies at the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office substation located directly across the street from the proposed warehouse.
“They felt that it was a potential for criminal activity and given some of the headlines that have occurred throughout the county recently, they were very concerned about the vicinity of the facility to residential housing,” Edmonds said during the meeting.
Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey said he has not spoken with the Garberville deputies, but stated that last year’s passage of the recreational marijuana legalization measure Proposition 64 as well as new regulations for medical marijuana taking effect have placed his office in a “philosophical dilemma.”
Downey said they are sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution and federal laws — including the prohibition of marijuana — as well as the state’s and county’s laws, which include legalized marijuana.
“We don’t know what kind of criminality might follow that,” Downey said about the marijuana depot in an interview with the Times-Standard on Friday. “You’ve got to look at it a little deeper in that we’re still dealing with a commodity that is federally illegal.”
The planning commission’s decision now calls into question whether other marijuana business applications can be denied based on general objections to marijuana and potential criminal activities caused by a black market industry.
The business permit in question was submitted to the county earlier this year by Oakland lawyer William Taggart who is part of the investment group MC Finance and Managemnet LLC. The LLC has submitted several applications to obtain medical marijuana business permits from the county in order to create a network of local cannabis producers, a distribution facility and a transportation business which Taggart said has already been approved. Attempts to contact Taggart on Friday were not returned.
One of the last permits Taggart and his investment group needed to secure was the distribution and warehouse facility, which he hoped to find in the proposed Garberville Transport Depot at a former smog check station at 663 Locust St. in Garberville.
However, nine neighbors in the area signed a petition to appeal the business from setting up shop. The petition called for the marijuana depot to have 24/7 security and called on the planning commission to reject the permit as the business would “add more traffic congestion” on their street.
Speaking to the planning commission on Thursday, Taggart explained that several of his employees would be living on houses located directly next to the warehouse, and that he would be installing a round-the-clock surveillance system.
“There will be someone there all of the time,” he said.
Taggart also said the warehouse will be double-locked and that the cannabis product would not be stored long-term.
Despite the warehouse also being located directly across the street from the sheriff’s office Garberville substation, Downey said that there is still a high potential for criminal activity such as robberies and burglaries that nearby residents are concerned will bleed into their neighborhood.
“I’m sure they have the best intentions,” Downey said of Taggart. “But we still have a lot of crime going on for people that possess marijuana.”
As for traffic congestion concerns, Taggart stated they would be having a maximum of six cars or trucks entering and leaving the facility each day. Planning Commissioner Ben Shepherd said Thursday that he wasn’t buying the traffic congestion arguments presented by the concerned neighbors, especially as the site of the warehouse was a former smog check station.
“That to me is not at a level that concerns me,” Sheperd said. “So if this were a muffler or smog shop, I would expect it to be far busier than that.”
Shepherd and Commissioner Noah Levy voted in favor of granting the permit, but were the minority vote. Some neighbors also spoke in favor of the marijuana depot, such as Redway resident Tom Grover who said he owns a parcel next to the proposed site.
“Across the street is the sheriff’s office,” he said. “It’s about as safe as you’re going to get anywhere. I can’t think of a better place to put it. There is very little traffic on that road.”
Karyn Wagner, the owner of the Garberville medical marijuana processing facility First MC Processing and self-stated former business partner of Taggart, also spoke in favor of Taggart’s business on Thursday.
She argued that the business is located in a commercially zoned area and has adequate security measures proposed. Wagner also added that traffic congestion will not be much of a concern as she does not believe Taggart’s business will obtain the cooperation of local cannabis producers.
“I don’t believe there will be a lot of support for someone who is not part of Humboldt,” Wagner said.
Taggart has the ability to appeal the commission’s decision to the Board of Supervisors, according to county supervising planner Michael Richardson.