A long time in the making, and sorely needed, Humboldt County now has the first land use ordinance in the state of California to regulate commercial cannabis agriculture. This is an important first step to begin rectifying the environmental destruction associated with unregulated cannabis cultivation, and providing a legitimate framework for legal economic activity that can benefit farmers and the general public. Only now can the divide between cultivators, regulators, and communities start to close, and mutual distrust begin to fade, as we work together to shape the industry’s future with our social and environmental values.
This is a monumental step taken at the behest of cannabis farmers, conservationists, government officials, members of the public and many others, who for the last five years have openly dialogued, deliberated, and educated the community about the problems of unregulated cannabis, while looking for solutions.
For nearly two decades, since cultivation for medical use was decriminalized, there have been very few rules and regulations to govern which activities are and are not acceptable. Unfortunately, few government officials outside of Humboldt County were willing or able to help find solutions to statewide problems associated with unregulated cannabis, such as water withdrawals, herbicide and pesticide use, threats to consumer and public safety, law enforcement and beyond.
Thanks to the efforts of a few brave cultivators, and Assembly member Jim Wood and Senator Mike McGuire, California adopted the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act in 2015, which at last provides a comprehensive statewide framework to regulate commercial cannabis. In addition, last summer the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board issued its groundbreaking water quality order, the first regulation by a California state agency designed to address environmental impacts from cannabis cultivation.
Finally, the components for effective regulation had to come together— Humboldt County could develop its own local ordinance to regulate land use, and what was accomplished was no small feat. The community came together to engage in the public process; and the Humboldt County Supervisors and planning staff accomplished the difficult task of balancing the needs of the environment, the industry, and the public. Having witnessed the process, I can say it is an example of the government and its citizens successfully working together to create a set of rules that most everyone can support.
The Humboldt County Commercial Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance establishes rules and performance standards designed to mitigate the harms associated with the unregulated existing industry. To be fully permitted as a legal commercial cannabis farmer, all twenty requirements must be satisfied, which include: enrollment in the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board water quality order; compliance with the streambed alteration program from the Department of Fish and Wildlife; water storage requirements to prevent dry season pumping; and strict rules for water trucking. Performance standards will begin to address noise and light pollution associated with generator use and mixed-light grows; streamside set-backs were incorporated to further protect water quality; and processing plans and allowance for off-site centralized processing centers were developed to increase safety for workers while reducing negative impacts associated with trim scenes. The Retirement, Relocation and Remediation Program incentivizes relocation of poorly situated grows to flat agricultural lands; and indoor cultivation is limited to on-the-grid power in existing structures. No new grows are allowed on forest resource lands i.e. TPZ, FR or U zones; and a sunset clause is included that limits enrollment in the county’s permitting plan to applicants who apply by December 31, 2016. In addition, the Supervisors have publically committed to completing a full Environmental Impact Report before expanding the breadth of the ordinance.
The county land use ordinance is an important first step, but it’s only the beginning. The county needs to begin immediately drafting a cannabis excise tax to fund inspection and enforcement, and provide other public services—so that it can be included on the June 2016 ballot for voter approval.
Cannabis thrived without regulation for decades. The time has now come for it to thrive with regulation. We need to help bring farmers into compliance. To assist with this task, EPIC and the Mad River Alliance are partnering with Humboldt Green, California Growers Association and the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District to create a 2016 Compliance Manual. We are hosting a series of six workshops across the county with presentations by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and experts on state and county laws. Click here to be directed to the Cannabis Farmer’s Workshop Series Facebook page. 
Through all these steps, we must remember that regulations and laws are not going to be perfect the first time around and that adaptive management strategies must be employed. The community must work together to provide feedback to agencies and elected officials regarding implementation of the new rules, and whether or not they are effective. EPIC will be there to work with anyone or any group who is sincere in promoting environmentally responsible cannabis cultivation, while ensuring environmental laws are upheld.
Workshops are scheduled for:
* February 28th at the Mad River Grange
* March 13th at the Mateel Community Center
* March 19th at the Willow Creek Country Club
* April 3rd at the Mattole Grange;
* April 17th at “Cannafest” at Redwood Acres Fairgrounds
* April 24 at Ruth Lake Community Center