County Takes the Reins on Marijuana Regs as CCVH Steps Back

The controversial political action group California Cannabis Voice-Humboldt (CCVH) has been adorning their newsletters and press releases with “#SameTeam” for months now, and you’d be forgiven for dismissing the hashtag as yet more sunny propaganda from a group prone to overstatement and declarations of its own historical import.

But today in the chambers of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors the CCVH motto seemed, if not prophetic, then certainly apt as the group willingly handed over its outdoor cultivation ordinance draft, a full year in the making, to the Board of Supes. The Board, in turn, agreed to use that draft as a template for a countywide ordinance governing outdoor cultivation of grows on parcels of more than five acres, an ordinance the county must hustle to pass before the state regulations go into effect in March. (The law would actually take effect on the first of the year, but local jurisdictions would have a two-month grace period.) Plus, the most vocal critics of CCVH — mostly folks from environmental nonprofits — thanked the group for its hard work and for relinquishing control to a “true public process.”

For perhaps the first time in the history of the board’s consideration of pot rules, all the players appeared to be pushing in the same direction. #SameTeam indeed.

CCVH co-founder and frequent spokesman Luke Bruner started things off with characteristic grandiosity. He approached the lectern and recited a speech he’d composed for the occasion, announcing that “the war on marijuana” is over. “Let us not waste the peace,” he beseeched the board.

It’s true that the landscape for medical marijuana in California has changed dramatically since Friday, when a three-bill package aimed at regulating the industry passed in the Legislature mere minutes before the midnight deadline. Those bills — AB 266AB 243 and SB 643 — now await the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown before they’re codified as the new law of the land.

Perhaps much of today’s Kumbaya spirit can be attributed to the fact that the rules proposed by CCVH, which were previously derided for allowing “mega-grows” of up to 10,000 square feet, look downright stringent compared to the rules in the statewide bills, which would allow grows up to an acre (or 44,000 square feet) in size.

Bruner pointed out that his group began its “grassroots” organizing efforts exactly a year ago today, as “immortalized,” he said, in the “famous” story posted right here on the Outpost. (Hey, at least he’s generous with his grandiosity.) But until today the group’s stated plan was to present its dual ordinances (one for regulation and one for taxation) as voter initiatives, which would have forced the board to either adopt them exactly as written or submit them to voters in an election.

Instead, Bruner announced today, CCVH’s board voted unanimously to “turn over the work of our hands to the People of Humboldt County — Our Fellow Citizens — through the Board of Supervisors.” Invoking “the best civic virtues of Rome and the United States,” Bruner left the task of finishing an ordinance in the trusty hands of the elected officials so that he and his fellow “soldiers” in the war on marijuana can return to the hills from whence they came, for ‘tis harvest season and there’s work to be done. “We must return to our fields and farms,” Bruner said.

Not everyone was swept up in the majestic civic spirit of the day, however. Perpetual public commenter Kent Sawatsky sees the mainstreaming of marijuana as an omen of end times. He took to the microphone to warn that rapacious tobacco executives are waiting in the wings to harness the destructive power of the marijuana industry.

“The Marlboro Man has been replaced by the Bob Marley man,” he said. Comparing marijuana use to nuclear brinksmanship, Sawatsky lamented that humans are “the most stupid species Mother Nature could have created” and suggested that society is winding down. “Maybe it’s appropriate that everybody gets stoned and sedated so what’s happening in the world has no effect on them,” he said before seeming to suggest mass annihilation: “Let the dog be put down.”

The duration of public comment focused on smaller-scale concerns. Natalynne DeLapp, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), said she was heartened by the work done by CCVH to get the conversation going, and she urged the supervisors to listen to recommendations from the public and make sure whatever rules they draft comply with the State Water Resources Control Board’s pilot project.

That project, launched last spring, instituted a three-tier permitting system for cannabis cultivators, based on the size of their operations. The agency’s goal is to cut down on the illegal water diversions, un-permitted grading, pollution and other environmental hazards of the industry, and both the state and local regulations will require enrollment in the Water Board’s program. The deadline for enrollment is Feb. 15, 2016.

Dan Ehresman, who as executive director of the Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC) has been CCVH’s public enemy No. 1, thanked the board for embarking on the “truly public process” his group has long called for. “I do applaud the work that has been done,” he said, presumably referring to CCVH, “but this is the right path.”

Larry Glass, president of the NEC’s board of directors, said the group will be “fully engaged” in the public process moving forward.

When the issue came back to the board for discussion, their attention shifted to time concerns. State regulations, assuming they’re signed into law by the governor, are set to take effect on March 1, 2016, less than six months from now. Any county that doesn’t have its own regulations in place by then will default to the state rules. The supervisors seemed determined, across the board, to get something in place before then.

County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck said that won’t be easy given the three separate bills at the state level and the various regulations already passed by the county, including rules for indoor operations, cultivation on parcels of less than five acres and medical marijuana dispensaries, all of which must be reviewed to ensure compliance with the state bills. The new outdoor cultivation ordinance, meanwhile, must be developed by staff (albeit based on the CCVH template), reviewed by the Planning Commission and passed by the Board of Supervisors before March rolls around.

Blanck suggested the he, personally, should serve as the conduit through which other departments communicate as they craft the ordinance, and the board agreed.

“We need to move forward as swiftly as possible,” Board Chair Estelle Fennell noted.

The board and the public seemed in agreement that a county ordinance should protect local control and be more restrictive than the state rules. Second First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, who said he was speaking as “the redneck conservative up here,” said the biggest task will be bringing the majority of growers, including the “bad apples,” into compliance.

“There’s a whole bunch of people who want to do it right,” he said. “Now we have to convince the rest.”

Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace reminded the rest of the board that CCVH actually developed two draft ordinances — one to regulate cultivation and another to establish an excise tax — and he asked whether or not the county should try to get them both passed by March.

But the county’s chief administrative officer, Phillip Smith-Hanes, balked at that suggestion. “Believe me,” he said, “there’s nobody at this dais more concerned about taxation than this person right here.” But he insisted there just isn’t enough time. “In plain English? There ain’t no way for us to work on two ordinances” in that timeframe, he said.

Fennell pushed back some, saying the least staff could do is look at the draft developed by CCVH, and 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg agreed. Those two supervisors serve as the board’s marijuana subcommittee.

Blanck, the county counsel, suggested the board keep its direction to staff vague to allow them flexibility. There ensued some amusing back-and-forth between supervisors, Blanck and the clerk of the board as they collectively workshopped the exact language for a motion. With help from these parties, Sundberg was credited with making the following motion:

“[To] direct county counsel to come back with ordinances in regards to medical marijuana in compliance with state law effective no later than March 1, 2016.”

The motion was seconded and passed unanimously, sparking applause from the public.

And the clock is ticking.


Article by: Ryan Burns
Published by: Lost Coast Outpost
Published on: September 15, 2015
Read article on Lost Coast Outpost.