John Ross Ferrara
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The City of Arcata is actively discussing the idea of developing a marijuana growing, manufacturing and processing facility within the rundown Humboldt Flakeboard plant on West End Road.
The topic was discussed at an Economic Development Committee meeting on April 2, where California Cannabis Voice Humboldt co-founder Luke Bruner gave a presentation on
how political, economic, cultural and environmental issues affect local marijuana farmers.
Arcata Community Development Director Larry Oetker said the idea to transform the facility was first envisioned several months ago following a joint study session between Ec Dev and the Arcata City Council.
“We discussed issues and priorities over the next year, and the primary topic of discussion at the meeting was ‘should the council be concerned if marijuana is legalized in November 2016?’” Oetker said. “The council requested we study the issue and report back.”
In response to the council’s concerns, the committee proposed the idea of an “innovation area,” where businesses could manufacture a variety of medical marijuana products.
Although the council’s actions are in response to the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, which could legalize recreational marijuana use in 2016, the project is currently focused on the medical marijuana industry in order to comply with current legal regulations. The council will address the possibility of producing recreational marijuana in the facility following the results of next year’s election.
The innovation area would also address some common concerns with marijuana production, such as environmental sustainability and health code regulations. For example, marijuana edibles currently sold in many dispensaries are not regulated by the FDA, and are likely prepared in kitchens that do not meet California health and safety regulations.
“These products are already being sold in different dispensaries. So the question is, where are those products currently being manufactured?” Oetker said. “And can we create an area where products are being prepared in a safe, legal kitchen and manufactured per Arcata’s land use regulations?”
According to an annual report by the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, approximately 4.81 million units of medical and non-medical marijuana edibles were sold in 2014. Bruner said based on Colorado’s numbers, Arcata has the potential to develop a successful edibles market.
“I think the world’s best artisanal, hand-crafted, edibles come from Humboldt County — and more specifically — they should come from Arcata,” Bruner said.
CCVH Assistant Executive Director Danielle Burkhart added that the Humboldt County brand should help local marijuana businesses to thrive.
“There’s no way we’re going to be able to compete with the box production of the Central Valley when 2016 hits,” Burkhart said. “But there’s a natural brand that’s already created for us. We just need to jump on it and focus on more of a boutique market.”
The City’s Community Development department currently operates the Foodworks Culinary Center, a community kitchen base for local restaurants and food manufacturers. However this site, located within a mile of the former flakeboard facility, cannot be used for medical marijuana purposes due to the risk of cross contamination.
The flakeboard site caused the City of Arcata financial distress when Humboldt Flakeboard received a $2.5 million loan from the city in 2007. The Community Development Block Grant was awarded in order to finance a $5 million biofiltration system needed to comply with environmental regulations, which allowed the plant to stay in business.
However, the factory ceased production in 2010 due to economic hardship and the business defaulted on its loan with a remaining balance of roughly $2.2 million.
The flakeboard property, which now resembles post-apocalyptic ruins, will need extensive renovations before it can be utilized. However, Oetker said the city will not be responsible for any of the refurbishment costs and that private companies have already expressed interest in investing money into the complex.
“There are some parts of it that are really bad and a majority of it needs moderate repair,” Oetker said. “It would be a private project. The city would not be doing any of the work and we have been in contact with investors.”
Luke Bruner, who is also the business manager at Wonderland Nursery in Garberville, said he did not know any of the unmentioned potential investors, but said he was concerned they could be large corporations.
There are still many concerns to be assessed before the city can move forward with the project. Environmental protection was brought up several times during Thursday’s meeting, and local environmentalists like Jen Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper plan to have their say before any final decisions are reached.
“The electricity definitely has a big carbon footprint,” Kalt said. “Unless you live in the Arctic Circle, it’s fairly absurd to generate electricity with fossil fuels to grow plants perfectly suited for outdoors.”