So, You Want to Grow Marijuana Legally? Pros and Cons of the New Humboldt County Form
As Humboldt County government grapples with changing California marijuana laws, officials are creating several strategies in an attempt to help the local community and its economy survive and hopefully thrive. One path Supervisors and the Planning Department are working on is the Commercial Cannabis Activity Registration form [CCAR or Registry]. The form attempts to surf one of the waves created by the new state medical marijuana laws.
CCAR, said Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell, has a “dual purpose” from local government’s perspective. “People in urban areas will be very anxious” to establish marijuana farms and businesses under the new state laws. “We’ve got to at least make it possible for people who are interested in making a business in Humboldt County to do so,” she said. In addition, she explained, County government is hoping the form will “help us understand the level of interest in the different kinds of licenses.”
The new state laws offer what some call a “grandfathering clause.” Fennel explained, “In the future you will need a business license to cultivate marijuana for sale.” When the newly forming Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation eventually gives out licenses, preference will be given to businesses existing before January 1, 2016 that are in “good standing” in their county, she said.
Now, no one is clear what “good standing” actually means. Basically, County and State government are trying to figure that out. But, explained Fennell, the way she understands it, “For the purposes of the state, if someone is on our registry, they are in good standing.” The registry effectively is a placeholder for the grower. It provides documentation to later allow a cannabis farmer or business to attempt to prove to the State government that they were conducting a business in good standing by January 1, 2016. However, in order to keep that place, they will have to comply with what Humboldt County government later decides constitutes “good standing.”
“The Sheriff, District Attorney and Environmental Health will give their input on what good standing means,” said Fennell.
In addition, Steve Lazar of the Humboldt County Planning Department cautions, “The State will ultimately be deciding if [the CCAR] is sufficient documentation.”
“A lot of farmers have been pretty squeamish,” said Kristin Nevedal a marijuana policy specialist who lives locally. But, Nevedal believes, ultimately the CCAR is worth the risk. “At some point we are going to have to move from the black to white market,” she said. “There needs to be some sort of good faith between our farmers and our county government.”
In other words, cannabis farmers and businesses are being offered a chance to become legal and be ready for the probable changes in tomorrow’s marijuana marketplace. But it’s a gamble–a gamble that by putting their names, addresses and size of operation onto a form and handing it into the Humboldt County Government, they will be able to meet the requirements now being decided and that the State will agree that CCAR is proof that they were in good standing.
In addition, they have to be concerned that they don’t end up the subject of a federal prosecution.
The latest Commercial Cannabis Activity Registration form offered by Humboldt County (there have been several versions) makes one of those possibilities clear. The form states in the first paragraph, “The information that you provide in this application may be released as required by law, judicial order, or subpoena, and could be used in a federal criminal prosecution.”
Steve Lazar from the Humboldt County Planning Department believes however that with the changing political landscape, state or federal attempt to use the personal information compiled from CCAR is unlikely. He said, “It is 2015. The cannabis landscape has changed.”
Kristin Nevedal pointed out that though the Federal government demanded the names of marijuana growers involved in Mendocino County’s Ziptie program, the names were redacted from the information passed on. And, that was many years ago. She, too, thinks it unlikely that the information on the list would be requested.
Another possible problem not mentioned on the form is that the information could be obtained with a public records request. For instance, in 2008, the North Coast Journal filed a public records request and obtained the names of all the Concealed Weapons Permit holders in Humboldt County. The names were then published on its cover. Conceivably, a publication or an activist group might demand the names of those who sign the Commercial Cannabis Activity Registration form.
Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said that Humboldt County is trying to protect those who sign the form. “People should not worry about their names being given out,” said she. “We’re working on making sure they are protected.”
Lazar states that those who submit their information are “protected because of the confidential nature.” He explained that the new state laws keep “privacy components in mind.”
Nevedal pointed out, “People are being registered as cultivators in other states and in the vast majority of cases the sky isn’t falling on their heads. We are not in the same situation that we have been in the past.” She said that the overall political climate has become less aggressive towards medical marijuana programs. She thinks CCAR is a good program. “I would encourage [medical marijuana farmers] to register and move forward with the licensing processing.”
She thinks that law enforcement would be more likely to focus upon marijuana growers who are not making any effort to comply then on farmers who are trying to work within the law. “Then law enforcement can focus on clearly illicit grows,” she said.
While some local attorneys are reportedly encouraging their clients to sign up–the sooner, the better—Mark Harris, an attorney based in Arcata, is concerned about issues with CCAR. He stated, “While I have no doubt the County is working in good faith towards a model that will enable local farmers to obtain provisional licenses, there is no discernible reason why a farmer would submit the present application form at this time.”
Because there is an extended time in which cannabis related operations can fill out the form, Harris said he is advising his clients to “wait until the County addresses the good standing issue first.” The farmers, he said, then could directly address whatever the requirements are.
Supervisor Fennell states that the guidelines for good standing will be out soon. “When we passed this, we gave 30 days for them [to be created],” she said.
Harris has further concerns. He pointed out, “[T]he application in its current form requires extremely sensitive and private personal information be provided. It is evident that such information may be readily obtainable via Public Records Act request and also by local, state and federal agencies into the future. This unfortunate fact creates a scenario where the applicant’s information may be obtained for purposes relating to criminal prosecution, potential civil liability or simply for informational purposes unrelated to the County’s immediate and laudable goal of assessing community interest.”
On the other hand, Fennell said she spoke to County Counsel and she said, “We are very cognizant of people’s concern….If we get a [Public Records Act request,] we would only be giving general locations. I don’t think we will be providing any specific records….It goes to personal safety which is part of state law.”
Harris is hopeful that the CCAR form will be changed again to further protect the cannabis growers and business owners. He stated, “We anticipate a modified version of the registration application may be able to address these concerns.”
Nonetheless, many farmers and business owners are excited about CCAR already. “I talked with the planning department the day after we passed it and they were already being swamped. I’ve seen a great deal of enthusiasm,” said Supervisor Fennel.”
Things to know:
- An online version of the Commercial Cannabis Activity Registration form is available to be printed here. It can be filled out, signed, and returned to the Humboldt County Planning Department by July 31, 2016.
- Steve Lazar from the Planning Department said that there will be no preference given for those who apply earlier than others.
Note: Mark Harris the attorney quoted in this article is an advertiser on this site.