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County Marijuana Ordinance on Hold; Planners Ask Staff to Rework Proposals

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After the Humboldt County Planning Commission heard hours of public comment dissecting a handful of proposed medical marijuana land-use ordinances Thursday, Commissioner Ralph Faust took a firm step back.

Citing the importance of protecting patients' rights and the county economy, all amid a backdrop of legal haziness, Faust urged the commission and county staff to pause and think.

"I think we should consider shelving this entire issue and letting nature run its course. ... We may inadvertently do some things here that have some unintended consequences -- we need to be careful of that," Faust said, adding that counties and states enacting bold marijuana ordinances are starting to see firm federal resistance. "I think we ought to be really cautious about whether we want to walk down that path."

After four and a half hours of meandering, complex and nuanced discussion, the commission sent staff back to the drawing board to analyze and evaluate all the proposed ordinances with the goal of bringing something back before the commission in July. During the marathon session, commissioners heard an overview of existing medical marijuana law and were briefed on county staff's proposed ordinance before hearing from members of the public, including two organizations and a local attorney that submitted proposed ordinances of their own.

Deputy County Counsel Davina Smith walked the commission through California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996, the state's Senate Bill 420 from 2003 and its Attorney General Guidelines issued in 2008, offering an overview of the existing laws that govern the state's medical marijuana patients and the industry that serves them.

"I know there's a lot of confusion over what is and what isn't permitted under the law and, unfortunately, that confusion isn't limited to laypeople -- it's in the legal community as well," Smith said.

Smith also touched on the conflict between state law and federal law, under which marijuana is still considered illegal, a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which is the same designation carried by heroin.

Smith pointed out that when the cities of Oakland and Isleton attempted to approve large-scale growing operations, they were met with a very firm federal response. She pointed to a Californiawatch.org report, which noted that the federal government's challenges over large-scale grows seem to be part of a broader federal effort to bring the state's booming medical marijuana industry into order.

Nonetheless, she explained that the county's staff is approaching a new ordinance in three phases: One that addresses indoor grows for personal use and collectives and cooperatives; another that addresses outdoor and large-scale cultivation; and a third that prepares the county for a "post-legalization" climate.

County Planner Steve Lazar broke down county staff's proposed land-use approach to the first phase -- a proposed ordinance that loosely mirrors those adopted by Arcata and Eureka.

Under the proposed ordinance, small indoor grows of 50 square feet would be principally permitted, as would grows of 120 square feet in a detached structure or 200 square feet in a greenhouse. If patients want more growing space, the proposed ordinance provides a process under which they could apply for an exception. The ordinance would cap grow light wattage at 1,200, prohibit the use of gas products and require that there be no external signs of the growing operation.

Lazar explained the ordinance is designed to protect patients' rights, while also protecting neighborhoods from negative nuisance impacts.

The proposed ordinance also outlines regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries, requiring that they be located in certain zoning designations and follow certain guidelines.

But much of Thursday's discussion was spent analyzing proposed ordinances submitted by the community -- one from the Humboldt Growers Association, another from the Humboldt Medical Marijuana Advisory Panel (HumMAP) and a third from local attorney Greg Allen, president of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The often divergent proposals call for everything from promoting marijuana grown outdoors and creating a marijuana advisory council to over see the industry and prepare for post-legalization, to providing incentives for a county-operated grower licensing program and tying personal grow space to parcel sizes and population densities.

"There are some really good things in virtually every (proposed) ordinance," Allen told the commission. "What we want is the best of all of them."

Many speakers Thursday also talked of the need to capitalize on the local marijuana's "Humboldt brand," with some suggesting the county could be to marijuana what Napa Valley is to wine.

"Even people in places like Pakistan know Humboldt County marijuana," HumMAP's Robert Sutherland said. "It's world famous."

With much of the conversation entering legal gray areas and things seemingly out of the purview of land-use issues, some on the commission, including Faust, questioned whether this was the proper venue for the discussion or a potential ordinance.

"What (people) would like to see in many respects goes well beyond our domain," Faust said, adding that he also questioned whether the county would have the means to enforce any of the proposed ordinances.

Commissioner Denver Nelson repeatedly touched on a decidedly different question about the discussion over what has been described as a $1 billion-a-year business.

"What's in this for Humboldt County?" he asked. "How do we get money out of this? If we can get a lot of money for the county out of this, it might be worth pursuing."

News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Source: contracostatimes.com
Author: Thadeus Greenson
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: Bay Area News Group
Website: County marijuana ordinance on hold; planners ask staff to rework proposals, report back in July
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