Steve Madrone: Carrots and sticks must guide the cannabis industry to compliance

Concerns were expressed by speakers at the Sept. 10 Board of Supervisors meeting and members of the public about recent Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office raids and the extreme costs and long timelines to get grows permitted.

The economy of Humboldt has taken a big hit with the onset of Cannabis regulation, as evidenced by a 10 percent reduction in sales tax in Humboldt in 2018. That drop did not occur in any other California county. This drop in sales tax means a reduction in funds for roads and public safety, as well as significant impacts for local businesses.

Many feel that cannabis regulations never offered an affordable pathway for the small farmer (less than 2,000 square feet) to become legal. The costs were so great to become compliant that many that went through legalization increased the size of their operation to 10,000 square feet to break even. 

Many started their permits but have stopped working towards compliance due to the large unknown costs and changing requirements. Others were just gaming the system to get one more year. The number of original applications was 2479. Of those only 471 have been approved. Of the estimated 8-10,000 grows before legalization less than 5 percent are in compliance. 

I agree with enforcement, but disagree with comments that folks have been given every opportunity to become legal. There is a big difference between small grows of 2,000 square feet and the bigger egregious grows with significant environmental damage. The big illegal grows also tend to have the guns and other violent responses to law enforcement.

There have been two pathways the county has been using to bring illegal grows into conformance.

There is the civil approach through Code Enforcement. The county reviews aerial photography, permit status, and any environmental violations of water diversion, unpermitted grading, unpermitted structures, and presence of pollutants. In this case the county posts a Notice of Abatement with up to $10,000 a day fines per violation starting 10 days after the posting.  

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This process is not perfect but has been very effective at curtailing unpermitted operations and there are no raids or danger for anyone in this approach. There have been some problems with the abatement process but no one is criminalized.

The second approach is a criminal matter and involves search warrants, armed raids, and the turning over of property in the search of buildings. There are stories of search’s going beyond the warrant properties to search neighboring properties even if they are small grows. 

My comments at the meeting were meant to reflect concern with this approach and an interest in providing an economically affordable pathway for small farmers rather than criminalizing them and raiding their properties under gun point.

I support the Sheriffs’ Office and have been working to provide them with better pay to increase recruitment and retention. The recent escalation of helicopter flyovers and the use of the National Guard have been cause for concern.

What I support is developing an economic pathway for small farmers to be compliant and have direct sales; we need carrots as well as sticks; use of code enforcement on large grows outside of the regulatory framework that are egregious; and use of warrants and raids on large, egregious grows that are also likely armed and dangerous. 

As stated by the sheriff, length of land tenure is a good clue to stewardship investment, or not.

Our board agreed to work to set up an ad hoc committee to look at “what is working and what is not” in cannabis regulation and work to make changes to support small farmers. This will improve our economy, create jobs, help to keep our sheriff’s deputies safe, and protect our environment.

Steve Madrone is Humboldt County’s Fifth District supervisor.



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