Weighing geographically-divided community opinion, the county has extended its consideration of a draft outdoor medical marijuana ordinance and will narrow its initial focus to impacts that affect neighborhoods.
The complex issues related to outdoor grows were again mulled over by the Board of Supervisors at its May 7 meeting. A discussion on the ordinance didn’t yield closure and supervisors decided to prolong its approval process but limit its scope to grows that occur in neighborhoods.
The draft ordinance intends to limit neighborhood impacts but its findings also mention large, remote grows associated with a variety of environmental harms. Most supervisors agreed that the latter grow type will be more difficult to address and should be considered later.
County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes summarized comments from community meetings in held in Garberville, the Petrolia area and Willow Creek last month. He said feedback was different in Willow Creek, where residents complained about nuisance issues like odor.
The draft ordinance includes restrictions on setbacks and options that define parcel sizes and plant numbers. Those aspects and a mandatory registration provision drew objections at the Southern Humboldt meetings. Supervisor Estelle Fennell said based on what she’s heard, the county needs to change its approach.
“I think at this particular point, it’s obvious, from the input, that the draft ordinance is pretty much going nowhere,” she said. A written staff report offers other options, including “redirecting resources away from ordinance development and into engagement on issues of enforcement and resources” and Fennell said that approach “got a lot of attention” in Southern Humboldt.
“There are laws on the books already to deal with these egregious environmental impacts,” she continued.
Smith-Hanes had said that the people at the Garberville meeting were mostly “involved in the industry,” while most of the Willow Creek attendees were neighborhood residents who asked for reducing the impacts of nearby grows.
A division of opinion on what defines a medical grow was apparent. Fennell disagreed with the description of the Garberville meeting’s attendees, saying that “what I heard for the most part was people who said they were growing medical marijuana – they weren’t involved in an industry.”
“I’m not aware of anyone who volunteers that what they’re growing is not medical, because that would be illegal and they’d basically be saying, ‘Yes, I am a criminal,’” said Supervisor Mark Lovelace.
He said he supports the concept of medical marijuana but also believes that “there’s a tremendous amount of abuse happening under the guise of medical marijuana.”
Supervisors were hesitant to venture specific directions to staff on how to proceed, as there were various opinions on what should be done. Fennell said the distinction between medical growers and those whose scale is industrial needs to be kept in mind.
“What’s caused a lot of the furor in this county and in general is the industrial level of marijuana growing that’s happening in our county and is destroying our environment – that’s the problem,” she continued.
Lovelace said it needs to be defined in order to address it in an ordinance. When Fennell said it’s well-defined by the highly-publicized Google Earth aerial images of large grows carved into remote hillsides, Lovelace reiterated the need to “put a number on it, in some way.”
Supervisor Rex Bohn said he doesn’t think that would be difficult but he sees other challenges. “I don’t know who’s going to fight this war for us,” he said. “Until I see something in our budget that says we’re going to get six code enforcement guys and add 15 more deputies to do this, we’re just doing it in the wind, guys.”
More discussion ensued but when the talks appeared to be gridlocked, supervisors agreed to refer the ordinance back to the board’s Medical Marijuana Subcommittee. Despite Fennell’s and Lovelace’s doubts, there was also agreement that the ordinance should first strive to address grows that are seen as neighborhood nuisances.
Earlier, Deputy County Counsel Davina Smith had reported the outcome of the state Supreme Court’s ruling on a lawsuit challenging the City of Riverside’s effort to ban medical marijuana dispensaries. Smith said the court ruled that municipalities do have the authority to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, including use of prohibitions.
Smith acknowledged that bans aren’t the approach Humboldt favors, but the ruling establishes a state precedent for applying “nuisance per se” laws to control the impacts of medical marijuana production and distribution.