Arcata lays ground for ethical cannabis industrialization

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Cannabis legalization is looming, and even before it comes, Arcata will be well-positioned to welcome eco-positive, labor-friendly, tax-paying marijuana businesses, if all goes as planned.

The City Council last week took some of the first steps to transitioning to an above-board cannabis industry by extending the urgency measure suspending parts of the Land Use Code that regulate cannabis cooperatives and collectives. The extension technically lasts until Jan. 1, 2017, but will probably be rescinded before then.

The ordinance is intended to suspend new cannabis business start-ups until the Planning Commission develops a body of law to deal with probable legalization for recreational use, which is widely expected to gain California voter approval in November of 2016. The city hopes to concentrate cannabis businesses in the already industrialized West End Road and Aldergrove areas of the city with use of an “innovation zone.”

ye olde pot leafAt its June 17 meeting councilmembers had directed staff to broaden its vision for possible innovation zones, to disperse them from just the former Humboldt Flakeboard site. But Community Development Director Larry Oetker said further consideration revealed limits to that approach.

Locations within the Coastal Zone are off limits, as are the Creamery District Innovation Zone and Giuntoli Lane near the new Mad River Business Park. So are areas near schools such as Alliance Road and the Craftsman’s Mall. All in all, West End Road and the Aldergrove Industrial Park are about it for eligible locations, Oetker said.

He said he wanted the Planco meetings in which the new regs will be created to be quick and efficient so that they could be quickly implemented and the moratorium rescinded. “I don’t want this to be a lifelong project,” Oetker said.

Councilmember Susan Ornelas, who had asked for more cannabis innovation zonelets throughout the city, said clustering the cannabis-oriented businesses in northeast Arcata made sense.

But she said that the cannabis industry is concerned about cleanup costs at the wreckage- and toxin-infested Humboldt Flakeboard site. She also wanted any indoor grows there to use modern greenhouse techniques as does Sun Valley Floral Farms, just without use of pesticides.

Councilmember Mark Wheetley agreed that use of greenhouses rather than indoor lighting would help Arcata adhere to its greenhouse gas reduction goals. Mayor Michael Winkler said that Community Choice Aggregation – local power ownership – could produce savings that would help the city work with growers to implement best practices.

Councilmembers emphasized the importance of “organic” cannabis cultivation, which could enhance Arcata-branded marketing of the resulting cannabis product.

Oetker said that just one cannabis business application was submitted before the interim ordinance was approved at the last council meeting, and that it won’t be processed while the moratorium is in effect.

However, the Planco will initially define the innovation zone area, then move on to the broader set of regulations. Once the innovation zone area or areas are known, then permit processing will proceed even as the new cannabis ordinance is developed.

On a motion by Ornelas the council voted unanimously to extend the urgency measure, ordinance no. 1464, until Jan. 1, 2017, when, presumably, new legalization laws approved by voters in November, 2016, would go into effect.

At last week’s Economic Development Committee meeting, Humboldt Patient Resource Center general manager Bryan Wilkomm gave an overview of HPRC’s business practices. The cannabis cooperative pursues numerous environmental initiatives, from everyday energy conservation to elimination of chemical fertilizers in favor of “organic” tea.

He said his cooperative is challenged by lack of space and out-of-date laws, which hamper progress.

There’s also lingering concern that the federal government may change its mind again, and clamp down on more benign, if somewhat fuzzy state and local laws. He asked that any new laws be clear and concise.

“Please give us guidelines to comply with,” Wilkomm said.

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