Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – As the state licensing of recreational use marijuana nears, Humboldt County is bridging a regulatory gap by allowing existing growers to gain interim local permits.
At its Nov. 14 meeting, the county’s Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to introduce an interim permitting ordinance. Growers whose permit applications for existing sites were deemed complete by July 14 of this year are eligible for interim permits unless they’ve strayed from what they described on their paperwork.
The interim permits are being advanced so that existing growers can apply for state licenses while their conventional permit applications are processed.
The Planning Department has estimated that 725 applicants are open to interim permits and their site conditions will be verified by county staff. The permits come with conditions that will be established through binding compliance agreements.
There has been some concern over whether the interim permitting will give cultivators a new advantage at the expense of environmental protection. But Planning Director John Ford told supervisors that approving interim permits only supports the county’s ongoing policy to allow existing growers to continue operating within the areas they’ve occupied.
“This interim permit does not change that, it really honors that policy,” he said, adding that expansion or re-location of existing grows “puts them into a different category.”
The interim permits will only be issued through the end of December.
The concept of encouraging compliance with regulations was reiterated as supervisors discussed permitting issues. But Supervisor Mike Wilson said an emerging issue is that some of the county’s growers have impacted cultivation sites beyond the ability to restore them.
“We’re going to have sites that are very expensive to remediate with no income source to do it and we’re going to have orphan properties at that point, where the remediation is going to cost more than the value of the property,” he continued. “We’re starting to move in that direction.”
Later, Wilson said interim permitting is “an unusual way for us to do compliance,” as it may fail to catch violations. “I feel we’re bumping the edge of this,” he continued.
Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said he believes most of the permit applicants are serious about compliance and will succeed in getting conventional permits. Supervisor Estelle Fennell said the permitting process generally advances a new era of oversight.
With the regulatory push, “I don’t think there’s going to be an increased impact to the environment – quite the opposite,” Fennell said.
Also during public comment, North Coast Regional Department of Child Support Services Director Lisa Dugan advised that unpaid child support may result in revocation of state licenses. She strongly recommended that state license applicants contact her agency to work through child support debts.
In addition to unanimously approving the introduction of the interim permitting ordinance, supervisors approved amending the county’s medical marijuana production ordinance so that it also applies to recreational marijuana.
The changes will get final approval at the board’s Dec. 5 meeting and will go into effect 30 days later.