Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – In what Humboldt County’s Planning Director has described as a “tremendous achievement,” the number of completed commercial marijuana permit applications will reach 1,800 by the end of this month.
The update was reported at the Sept. 19 Board of Supervisors meeting. During a discussion on how to apply commercial marijuana excise taxes fairly, Planning Director John Ford was asked about the percentage of marijuana cultivators who have been fined for violations.
Ford said that 30 applicants have been deemed to be out of compliance with the county’s regulations and 60 permits have been approved.
For months, county planning staff has been reviewing the more than 2,300 permit applications submitted under the late 2016 deadline of a commercial marijuana production ordinance.
The first step toward approving permits is reviewing applications and deeming them to be complete and ready for processing. Most of the applications were considered to be incomplete so getting the majority of them in shape marks a milestone in the county’s progress.
Once commercial operations are permitted, they’re subject to another layer of bureaucracy – taxation.
The permit applications update was part of a discussion on changing the way excise taxes are billed. Seeking to apply its excise tax on commercial marijuana production fairly, the county will focus collection based on the date of permit approvals.
The idea is to prevent billing of the taxes for an entire year in cases where new cultivation has only been possible for part of a year due to the timing of permit approvals.
Supervisors directed staff to implement a marijuana taxation system that restricts collection to periods that begin with permit approval, site inspection and confirmation that no violations are being committed.
In another marijuana-related action, supervisors took action to prevent cultivators from bypassing county review of grows in coastal zones.
Described as a “clean up” item by Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, the coastal zone prohibition formalizes the county’s status quo.
The county’s commercial marijuana production ordinance only applies to non-coastal areas so production of marijuana in coastal zones is already unpermitted.
The ordinance is being revised and Ford said that the coastal ban on cultivation, manufacturing, processing and distribution will stay in place until the new ordinance is certified by the state’s Coastal Commission.
“What it really does is maintain the status quo and it does not allow people to end run the county and go and apply for a state license without local authorization,” he continued.
The state’s commercial marijuana licensing system is set to begin in January. Ford explained that when the state receives license applications, referrals to the county will be made regarding compliance with local rules.
“If you can’t answer ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ you say nothing and if you don’t have an ordinance prohibiting it, you can’t say it’s not in compliance,” he said.
An updated, revised ordinance is expected to be approved and in effect by early January, with Coastal Commission certification gained in the first or second quarter of 2018.
Sundberg is on the board’s Medical Marijuana Subcommittee with Supervisor Estelle Fennell. He is also a state coastal commissioner and said he doesn’t anticipate any problems with certification.
“I don’t think there’s an anti-cannabis sentiment on the Coastal Commission so I think that once our staffs work out the details and it all complies with the Coastal Act, it will move through,” Sundberg continued.
Supervisor Mike Wilson said the county “will be standing in way of two administrative behemoths,” referring to the potential for disagreements between the commission and the state’s marijuana regulation agency.
He asked Ford if other counties were making the same administrative maneuver.
“Nobody has really thought through this so we are alone,” Ford said.
“Good luck to the others,” Wilson rejoined.
Supervisors directed staff to prepare a coastal prohibition ordinance. Staff was also directed to re-define the county’s current regulations to be applicable to both medical and recreational marijuana.