Marijuana growers can now register

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – Those involved in the marijuana industry now have the chance to put their names on a county registry that will allow priority processing once the state launches a medical marijuana licensing system.

A resolution authorizing registration with the county gained unanimous approval at the Dec. 8 Board of Supervisors meeting. Brought forward by Board Chair Estelle Fennell and Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, the resolution establishes a registry that is immediately in effect and addresses a provision in new state law that allows the opportunity for priority license processing to those who sign onto it.

The state’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act allows the priority status for those who are conducting commercial medical marijuana operations as of Jan. 1, 2016. The state has outlined numerous licensing types ranging from cultivation to distribution but the system will not be launched until sometime in 2018.

In the meantime, being on the registry will allow the county to eventually define operators as being “in good standing,” with the exact definition still being developed. Sundberg said there has been confusion about the registry’s purpose.

He clarified that it potentially reserves a place in line for state licensing and does not initiate a permitting process because one is not in place yet.

Signing onto the registry will indicate intent to seek state licensing and also “imply that whatever you do will also be in conformance with Humboldt County regulations as we develop them,” Fennell said. “They are saying that if you’re not in line, you will be at the back of the line by the time they get it together.”

Deputy County Counsel Joel Ellinwood emphasized that the registry is for those who are engaged in medical marijuana-related operations as of Jan. 1 and not for those who intend to be after that date. New state law sets licensing conditions for marijuana operations, including maximum outdoor grow sizes of one acre. But cities and counties can be more restrictive, as long as they enact local ordinances by March 1.

Humboldt County is believed to be the only county in the state that is developing its own land use regulations for marijuana production and other activities. Supervisor Virginia Bass noted that state law outlines licensing types and sets deadlines for local jurisdictions but leaves state implementation open-ended.

“I think we’re forced into this by the actions of the state,” she said, adding that Humboldt County is scrambling to meet an “artificial timeline” while the state devises its licensing system.

“In many ways we’re forced to go through the process in a backwards fashion,” Bass continued.

The deadlines in state law might be changed during the legislative session that begins in January but without assurance of what will be done, the county is proceeding with its own ordinance.

It will not be in effect by Jan. 1, however, and county planner Steve Lazar said the registry is an interim measure for the county as well as the state.

“All we can do in that limited window is to create the registration concept,” he continued. “It is using the county’s authority to essentially anticipate what’s coming through local regulation, recognize existing operators and acknowledge that once we’ve had the chance to vet your operation through review, then we can actually, in the future, recognize it.”

During a public comment period, operators of medical marijuana businesses supported the registry’s approval and suggested various means of defining existence by Jan. 1, including registration with the state’s Board of Equalization and the county Assessor’s Office.

Applause sounded after supervisors voted to approve the registry. Fennell said there are concerns about medical marijuana regulation but “we all understand that we’re going to improve the situation by taking these steps.”

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