Humboldt County is part of the region in Northern California known as the Emerald Triangle that is infamous for generations of family farm-based production of marijuana. It is estimated that as many as 30,000 marijuana grow sites — some several acres in size — exist throughout Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties.
The ordinance, on which the group has been working for a year, will be open to public comment for 45 days, after which it will be presented to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors as a ballot initiative. The group hopes the Board will prioritize the issue by calling a special election, as opposed to waiting for the June 2016 primary election.
The ordinance was developed through collaboration between local cannabis farmers, environmental consultants, elected officials, and regulators from the county and state. It conveys a spirit of independence and self-reliance, prioritizing family farms. Patrick Murphy, CCVH’s co-director of community outreach, told a group at a recent town hall meeting,
“I’ve lived my whole life an outlaw, and I’m not going to die an outlaw. I’m going to die a farmer, a proud farmer, a farmer of cannabis.”
The language of the ordinance states: “Cannabis may be cultivated in any zone in which general agricultural use is permitted, including, but not limited to, the Timber Production Zone (TPZ).” Said Luke Bruner, a co-founder of the group:
“Today is a great victory for this community, and today represents the future life of our people and our land. Around the world, countries go into bankruptcy. Puerto Rico slides into insolvency. Cities and counties around California teeter on the brink. But the future of Humboldt is bright because the farmers and the people are organized.”
Zoning and Crop Size
Details of the proposed ordinance include regulations regarding zoning and crop size. The ordinance does not specify a grow size limit.
- Land owners with at least five acres could cultivate a cannabis garden for personal use that is no more than 600 square feet in “canopy size” with no zoning approval.
- Gardens larger than 600 square feet, but smaller than 6,000 square feet in canopy size, would be granted a ministerial permit.
- Farms of more than 6,000 square feet, but less than 10,000 square feet in canopy size, would require a conditional use permit. Current cannabis farmers would be grandfathered in and not required to obtain the permit.
- Other than requiring gardens larger than 10,000 square feet to obtain a conditional use permit, just like farms of 6,000 or more square feet, no additional restrictions or requirements would be applied to even the largest marijuana farms.
- Commercial growers would be required to obtain a business license, at a cost of $25 per year, from the county treasurer. Revenue would go to the county’s general fund. This system would allow authorities to suspend or revoke the license of any grower found in violation of the ordinance.
Said CCVH Executive Director Richard Marks:
“This is a very exciting day for us, but not just for us — for small farmers and for all of Humboldt County. This is the day when Humboldt County takes a huge step into the future, not a future predetermined by outsiders, not a future given to us, not a future we just happened upon. No, a future we are making ourselves and by ourselves.”
Critics Voice Concerns
Despite the progressive, populist tone of the proposed ordinance, some local environmental leaders are pessimistic. Northcoast Environmental Center Executive Director Dan Ehresman, who read a draft copy of the ordinance, said:
“It’s still giving a green light for large-scale growers who are doing significant environmental damage to watersheds and communities. CCVH is about protecting big growers. That’s what this land use ordinance is about.”
Ehresman stressed that many small-scale cannabis farmers operate responsibly, but that he believes the ordinance, if it became law, would permit large farmers to continue harming the environment.
CCVH President Andre Carey, during an interview following the unveiling of the proposed ordinance, countered the concerns over grow size. “If you can’t show proof that you can get adequate water, then you won’t get a permit,” he said. Carey welcomed feedback from the community. “People can introduce changes that will be taken back to the…attorneys,” he said.
Humboldt County Supervisor Estelle Fennell, who serves on the Board’s medical marijuana subcommittee, noted the lack of grow size limits in the ordinance. “There doesn’t seem to be a limit in there. As the people at the press conference today said, they’re focusing on small farms. If that’s the case, we need to define what a small farm is.”
Photo credit: Lost Post Outpost Andrew Goff