Humboldt Cannabusinesses Say They Are Struggling to Comply With Regulations
According to Karyn Wagner who represents First MC Processing, the business cannot open a dispensary and manufacturing facility in Garberville because the Planning Department requires proof of ample parking. Although First MC Processing has been working towards legal compliance for about a year, they say recent attempts for permit approval were again thwarted. Wagner started the first branded Humboldt collective in 2010, but is not yet able to open Garberville’s first downtown dispensary.
Wagner says the business completed a parking study this winter, but the Planning Department found the survey inadequate because county parking ordinances have not been updated for 60 or 70 years, and so the Cannabis Services Division wrote to Wagner requiring, “a parking survey completed over a minimum of two weeks during a time of year with peak tourism and seasonal workers.” Wagner said her company has already invested about twenty thousand dollars in preparatory work and parking studies so far this year.
For Wagner and her associates, “It just means more time, more money, and a lost opportunity. A lost opportunity for growers that are anxious to bring their products to market and pay their taxes, a lost opportunity for businesses in Garberville where stores are closing, going up for sale, and business is so far down, people are not sure how they’re going to get through this season.” Wagner believes, “Humboldt is known for its values around sustainability, and of course urbanites are very used to having to walk two, maybe even three blocks to reach their destination. It’s just not a big deal.”
Making cannabis accessible is not easy given restrictions and regulations, and some established businesses are finding it difficult to distribute locally. For example, the Wonderland Nursery just outside of Garberville overcame parking hurdles by constructing their own parking lot. Even so, managing owner Kevin Jodrey explained the challenges he faces operating a dispensary and pursuing further legal capabilities. Jodrey said, “I’ve been in the dispensary industry for ten years in Humboldt… [It] is probably one of the worst places you could have a dispensary… if I didnt have five and a half years of previous experience, I probably wouldn’t even do this… Humboldt is unique, there’s no other place growing this much organic Cannabis. So the problem is, how do you sell an eighth for 50 to 70 dollars, in an area that traditionally grows cannabis?” Jodrey compared his work less to business, and more to community service.
Down the road in Briceland, the Plant Humboldt Nursery is in the process of acquiring permits and managing customer requests despite unclear guidelines from the county. Owner and operator Mikal Jakubal said he was frustrated. “I still don’t know what I can actually legally do,” he explained. “The county regs are changing, the state regs are changing, it’s really hard to invest and to move forward in this rapidly changing economy when we don’t even know what the requirements are going to be yet.”
Jakubal believes restricting dispensaries is antithetical to business development in Humboldt County. He said, “There should be six recreational weed stores in Garberville. You think about the business that would be coming into this town. Yeah, parking would be a problem, but that’s a good thing… There should be lots of pot tourism companies… and it’s not as if you can just delay this, because other places in the State are actively pursuing it. Everyone wants to be sort of the pot destination in California, and Humboldt County has the name. Entrepreneurs need to grab that and run with it, and the County needs to actively encourage it and basically not be overly obstructionist.”
Some SoHum farmers say that the county government has worked with them. Mr. Bean’s Veganics, a cannabis farm, hopes to gain a permit after the latest Land Use Ordinance is passed. Farm owner Sawyer Bogle cultivates cannabis entirely with vegan amendments. Bogle said, “All inputs are vegan. There are no animal, no farm by-products, basically no livestock. I try to consciously think about where my inputs come from and the impact that has on the planet.” Bogle was pleased when the Board of Supervisors revised the ordinance, potentially allowing a permit for his less-than-an-acre farm in Myers Flat.
Other farmers say that they have had trouble complying with local regulations. For instance, at Riverview Gardens LLC, Brian St. Clair takes pride in creating cannabis flowers with homemade biodynamic compost teas. However, before the farm’s permit can be approved, county law now requires the farm install a metered water system and use Garberville city water, rather than utilize the property’s abundant spring water. The installation of a metered water system will cost St. Clair about $8,000, in addition to monthly water bills he did not have before. St. Clair shared, “I kept records of my water use last year, and… I averaged one gallon of water per plant per day. That’s ridiculously low, you know, but yet they want us to pay $8000 to hook up this water meter.”
The County denies that they are making the process unduly difficult. When asked if the Planning Department supports or is against cannabis businesses, Supervising Planner Michael Richardson wrote, “The Board of Supervisors is trying to encourage cannabis growth and distribution….the county encourages business in many ways.”
When County representatives were asked how much money does the Planning Department believe an individual would need to open a cannabis business, given the costs? Richardson responded, “The costs vary from one applicant to another. Given the relatively high rate of participation in the cannabis permitting program so far, the potential profits can often outweigh the potential costs.”
But the potential is not yet real in Southern Humboldt. At Riverview Gardens, St. Clair shared his uncertainty about County laws. “It’s always going to be hard when you have to abide by someone else’s standard, when they don’t know what they’re talking about. How do you follow the lead of someone who doesn’t know where they’re going?”
Local activist, Darryl Cherney, claimed those applying for permits are “paying for the bullets for their own firing squad. The homestead has become a business subject to inspection at any given moment. Anyone who signs up for this is in denial about the chance of succeeding. It’s a moving target… Farmers always get the short end of the stick.”
Several letters were written to the Board during the last period of public comment by Friends of the Eel River, the Coastal Commission, the Fish and Game Advisory Commission, the Humboldt Cannabis Manufacturing Association, Ag Dynamix, and many individuals requested revisions on the proposed ordinance. The Yurok Tribal Council made quite clear, they will have apriori authority over any permits affecting Yurok ancestral territory. Letters from the Humboldt County citizens suggested the proposed ordinance could have negative effects on wildlife, watersheds, businesses, communities, and socio-economic balance.
There are many different ways the proposed Ordinance may be revised. All of the letters written to the Board are publicly available online in the April 10 Board of Supervisors meeting Agenda notes, at humboldt.legistar.com. The Board of Supervisors will be meeting again May 8th to discuss and possibly approve the County Cannabis Land Use Ordinance.