Cannabis Regulation in Humboldt: It’s of EPIC Importance

Natalynne DeLapp, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), has allowed us to reprint a piece posted on Wild California’s blog yesterday. At the bottom of her piece is an update from her describing actions taken today by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.

Frog (1 of 1)Local control is critical for our future. Humboldt County must take initiative to develop its own land use ordinance to regulate the number, size, and location of operations for commercial cannabis cultivation that fits the specific needs of our forests, fish, farmers and families.

Now is the time, the momentum is here. On Friday, the State of California provided the first ever comprehensive framework to regulate commercial cannabis cultivation. This is huge and much needed, but a work in progress. The new laws will provide clear rules within two years, allow for cultivation of up to one acre of cannabis, and focus on the licensing processes for commercial sales, which includes a requirement for local permitting. Additionally, in August, 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. However, because the regulation was developed by the Water Board, the order only explicitly focuses on water quality issues.

These are monumental steps taken at the behest of cannabis farmers and many others to transition the industry from underground to legitimate. For nearly two decades, since cultivation for medical use was decriminalized, there have been very few rules and regulations to govern what activities are and are not acceptable. Cannabis production increased dramatically, particularly in the last 5 years, where watersheds in Northern California have seen increases in area under production ranging from 55% to over 100%. And because there are no external incentives to improve practices and because law enforcement does not appear to discriminate between good and bad growers, there is a perverse incentive: go real fast, go real big, and take the chance that you’re not going to get caught.

Humboldt County needs to put its own plan in place before we allow more development in our already over allocated watersheds. Because existing and reasonably foreseeable future regulations from the state do not solve our problems, we need to act locally. A county land use ordinance has the potential to regulate the number, size, and location of operations.

The Water Board order provides a good template to base a land use ordinance for Humboldt County. The Water Board framework provides the necessary carrot and stick to bring an industry, which has historically existed only by breaking the law, to come into compliance with the law. Growers who fail to comply with the order will face stiff civil penalties while growers who comply with the regulation will shift from regulatory targets (“red dots”) to being largely left alone (“green dots”). Furthermore, looking forward, compliance with state and local laws will be one of the criteria that the state considers when granting potentially lucrative growing licenses. Such a framework, which provides incentives for farmers to come into compliance and address the damage that our community is suffering in the absence of appropriate environmental regulation and enforcement.

It is imperative that cultivators begin the process of coming into compliance with the NCRWCQB’s order before February 6, 2016.

California Cannabis Voice Humboldt (CCVH) has led the most recent effort in Humboldt County to advance the creation of a land-use ordinance that focuses on protecting small cannabis farmers. One of the guiding priorities for CCVH in crafting their ordinance was to create a regulatory structure which made sense to the average cannabis farmer, providing clear rules and a structure that would encourage compliance.

The CCVH ordinance rightly focuses on permitting existing operations, ensuring that those folks who are already members of our community have an opportunity to come out of the shadows. Focusing on current operations also establishes a baseline to slow or stop the green rush; new operations above a significant threshold would require a conditional use permit, a process whereby the impact from an additional operation can be scrutinized before any plants are in the ground.

EPIC had previously taken issue with the CCVH ordinance, particularly a portion of the ordinance that could encourage further forest fragmentation through opening land zoned as “timber production zones” or TPZ to commercial cannabis cultivation. As part of CCVH’s public comment period for their draft ordinance, EPIC submitted substantial comments. EPIC, the Northcoast Environmental Center, Humboldt Baykeeper and S.A.F.E. submitted additional recommendations aimed at addressing permitting and licensing for existing operations and mitigating ongoing environmental impacts of the cannabis industry to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.

This began a productive dialogue between EPIC and CCVH. Through numerous meetings, calls, emails, and text messages we discussed our vision for Northern California’s forests and farms and realized that our principles were not far apart.

On Tuesday, September 15, 2015, CCVH will turn their hard work over to the Humboldt Board of Supervisors along with a series of recommendations. The Board, having received the ordinance language, can run with the baton, sending it through the necessary internal and public review. The Board, which has previously dragged its feet on cannabis regulation, will hopefully feel a greater charge from the public to see this ordinance to completion in an expeditious manner.

To be successful, a local land use ordinance must:

  • Stop the “Green Rush.” This is the exploitation mentality of people who have flocked to the region looking to make fast money regardless of the environmental and social consequences of their activities.
  • Create a safe haven for existing cultivators who want to come into compliance, without fear of persecution.
  • Protect Humboldt County’s small-scale, salmon safe, sun-grown, artisanal cannabis farmers.
  • Provide clear lines as to what activities are and are not acceptable.
  • Prevent and mitigate the negative environmental impacts associated with cannabis cultivation.
  • Halt the further fragmentation and conversion of our working forests for commercial agriculture.
  • Mandate that all water used for cannabis cultivation be stored, with no
    surface water diversions between May 15 and October 31* (this date is based on the NCWQCB’s new order).
  • Create a tax-system for farmers to be able to contribute financially to society.
  • Protect Humboldt County from a future filled with Big Tobacco-owned mega-grows.
  • Restore damaged watersheds and watershed function.
  • Provide adequate funding resources to inspect, enforce, and remediate cultivation areas.

Passage of a land use ordinance is not the end but the beginning. After California legalizes recreational cannabis, the regulatory landscape will become clearer. A future local land use ordinance that addresses new cannabis cultivation and cultivation for recreational purposes will be necessary. 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 as the implementation of the new rules are seen to either be effective or ineffective. Through all these steps, EPIC will be there to work with anyone or any group who is sincere in promoting environmentally responsible cannabis cultivation.

* The staff at EPIC believe that all water used for any commercial agriculture should be stored and not diverted from surface waters during the dry season.

Update: On Tuesday, September 15, 2015, the Board of Supervisors passed a motion directing County Counsel to develop a medical marijuana ordinance in compliance with state law to be effective no later than March 1, 2016; the Supervisor’s Ad Hoc Committee will work to develop a framework for a county Cannabis Commission; and a local taxation measure will be on the Humboldt County ballot as soon as June 2016 or no later than November 2016.




  • Still waiting for Governor Browns signature right? The new bill anyway.
    Is this using cannabis profits to repair pre existing logging roads. As well as subsidize all non paved roads to new standards just started recently?
    I don’t believe out sloping is mandatory currently.
    Just that it is considered a better option.
    People who think the reason cannabis is grown here because of remoteness alone fail to consider that low prices for timber and cattle help drive land owners to sell out in the first place. TPZ owners get a massive tax break on prop tax with the expectation they will harvest and sell timber thus paying back their tax break at the time of timber sale.

    • There’s so few parcels zoned Ag seems to exclude TPZ from any level of marijuana production would leave us right where we are. A massive black and grey market. What’s wrong with growing medicinal marijuana on TPZ with a three acre exemption and permitted water storage?

  • work on state law duh

    So how is EPIC going to get local ordinances to supercede state law?? Whatever rules are passed next year will be state law.
    So why is EPIC spending all this energy on local rules, seems like a waste of time and energy. Would be great to see work on how to protect our area from the state, it feels like enviros are looking in the wrong direction. Where’s the regs on indoor???? So much more toxic.
    Sorry but EPIC doing that press release with green diamond was just ridiculous! Not even two weeks later green diamond asked the county to change all of their jacoby creek holding from 20 acre to 5 acre parcels. I laffed out loud, duh epic. Working with timber companies rather than figuring out how to set egos aside and work with local organizers. The amount of yelling and being mean to others regarding this topic among local enviros is shameful.
    I mean really EPIC maybe you outta ask your volunteer of the year from a few years back how he’s liking prison due to having the largest bust of its kind years ago. Hypocritical to the max.

  • ““In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.” Madison expanded property in its narrow sense of material possessions to include property “[i]n its larger and juster meaning” of opinions and speech.”

    “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”

  • * The staff at EPIC believe that all water used for any commercial agriculture should be stored and not diverted from surface waters during the dry season.

    You’ll never enforce that in a TPZ . It’s too easy to hide.

  • Kym your.part of the.propaganda pushers,
    Fact is when a dollar amount is ok to pollute, It’s also fact that these people that collect that money dont give a rats ass about fish or nature.
    Wake up einstein

  • Existing Hum. Co. TPZ land owners, who are cultivating, need to initiate the permitting process with the North Coast Water Board-you have until February 15, 2016. The new county regulations will require compliance with water board and fish & wildlife regs to be permitted as a licensed commercial cultivator. The state’s new laws require licenses from local jurisdictions.

    What the county did yesterday was ensure that our local, existing farmers (whatever land zoning your growing on) are given the freedom to come into compliance with the new laws and the new economy. With that freedom comes responsibility for stewarding your land and protecting our natural resources, so get your permits in order.

    EPIC wrote a letter with HRC, not Green Diamond. We DO NOT support the FURTHER conversion of working forests, what that means is: we can’t undo what’s been done (get your permits!), but we can stop more from happening. If new growers want to buy TPZ land to cultivate, there is a legal process for rezoning the land (TPZ is just a tax break), get permits from the water board, DFW and then go through the county’s Conditional Use Permit process.

    Yes, EPIC has been tied to the cultivation community and we have suffered the same trauma as many of you from losing our loved ones to the War on Drugs–that is why we are working with our community to come up with clear rules and guidelines so that people can live their lives without fear of guns being drawn on them for growing a plant.

    This is a new era. Get your permits, don’t divert from the streams and live comfortably knowing you’re not going to go to prison. The clock is ticking.

  • Is there a list of businesses that help people come into compliance?

    • Manhard Consulting
      Pacific Watershed Alliance
      North Coast Regional Water Board
      Humboldt County Building and Planning Dept.

      • Thank You. Are there any more that do the leg work for you and help with all the paper work and planning. Some of us work and also don’t like dealing with these agencies.

        • The first two.

        • Add Dan Mar from High Tide Permaculture to the list.

          I believe Salmonid Restoration Federation and Sanctuary Forest may have limited ability to assist with forms, and I am looking into whether or not EPIC has the capacity to start adding providing help with forms and paperwork.

  • Advertising on this website must not work. I’ve been seeing the green dot ad for weeks if not longer and didn’t even realize what they did. Funny, nobody mentioned them either.

  • those green dot ads worked for me i called out of curiosity. the guy was very helpful, answered a ton of questions. Reassured me i was good to go.

    the truth is these consultants dont know how this is gonna shake out either the bills havent gone thru correct?

    You have two yrs to comply. 5 woulda been nice. Im going to go ahead and start saving the $$$ it will cost to actually bring my perfectly clean scene up to their code and by that time, we will know which consultant deserves the business.

    I also heard something silly like, 2 yrs but humboldt is implementing it now and other counties will follow.

    anything will be better than a 25 plant limit. Between the fines from a raid i should have fought, few yrs of property tax and a couple speeding tickets, mendo has gotten rich off many of us. Biting the hand that feeds them is what i’d call it.

    I want to believe that the people here dont want to see small farmers go under, but i fear most the older population has simply made their nut and dont rly need to put up a fight for the future. Obviously they want to keep getting paid but they will have a much easier decision between retirement and paying tons of money to continue.

    end rant. sorry.

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