Letter to the Editor Says, ‘Watch Out for the Humboldt County Cannabis Reform Initiative’
Welcome to our letters to the editor/opinion section. To submit yours for consideration, please send to [email protected] Please consider including an image to be used–either a photograph of you or something applicable to the letter. However, an image is not necessary for publication.
Please watch out for the Humboldt County Cannabis Reform Initiative, it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The co-authors of the bill don’t realize the harm their wording will cause to the small cannabis farmer in Humboldt County. It will be expensive for all the small farmers. It certainly doesn’t protect them nor is it “good for the small farmer” as the website would like you to believe. It will also cause extreme financial harm to any ancillary business that profits off the cannabis farmer in Humboldt. This is anyone from engineers, consultants, farm supply stores, and even other small businesses that small farmers shop at. Thousands of hours of public comment have already gone into the County General Plan. These people could have chosen to get involved then, but they didn’t. This small group of people have chosen to rewrite the County General Plan without guidance from the small farmers, county officials, or anyone in the cannabis industry. The legal farmers in Humboldt county are already over regulated. They have had to meet with multiple inspectors for site management, water usage, and environmental worries. Many of the concerns listed by HCRI have already been dealt with, and these folks, who are not in the industry, don’t appear to be aware of all the requirements that have already been processed. In addition there are many details in this proposal that are alarming to current small cannabis farmers, and these added costs aren’t being explained clearly by the petitioners. It will also increase the value of the current larger cannabis farms in Humboldt county, as it hopes to cap the size of new permits at 10,000 sq feet, and only for farms or nurseries.
As a voter initiative, county supervisors will not be able to adjust this proposal in the future to make it more feasible. So while protecting the county from a corporate takeover sounds great, when you delve deeper into the proposal you begin to see it harms a very large group of Humboldt County businesses.
Some of the proposed changes are
- Changing the County definition of outdoor; farmers who currently pull tarps for light deprivation, but use zero electricity would be lumped in the same category as those who use up to 24 watts per sq ft. That would change a 10,000 sq ft farm from a current county tax bill of about $11,400 to $22,800 a year. This has the potential to encourage people to use the electricity to justify the increased costs.
- Requiring onsite visits from county staff before renewing permits; Current law requires annual compliance inspections,to renew permits each year, which includes aerial and satellite surveillance. Every permitted and licensed farm is subject to in-person inspections from the Department of Cannabis Control, Department of Fish & Wildlife, the State Water Board, and the County. The County does not have staffing capacity to put boots-on-the-ground at every single one of the 700+ farms each year that are spread around a county that is the size of the state of Connecticut. What would be the environmental cost of all the vehicle miles traveled for these inspections? Who is going to pay for the increased capacity, which would include staff time, vehicles, maintenance, fuel? The seemingly minor addition of the new language requiring in-person inspections, puts the onus of the farmer’s permit renewal on whether or not the county can physically get out their farm. The language also implies that those of us who volunteered to become the most highly regulated agricultural operators in the world can’t be trusted. When I asked the petitioners about this new language, they suggested that I sue the county if I couldn’t get them out on time. Yeah, because more lawsuits is a great idea, and the small farmer can afford all the associated costs plus the down time while fighting this piece of legislation.
- Requires any complaints from neighbors to be dealt with before permit renewals can be granted. Even if the complaint is filed the day before the permit is set to renew. With farms currently struggling this inability to continue the season would close their doors for good.
- Require new permits and category 4 roads to each new farm or any farm choosing “expansion” – (A category 4 road is a paved road with a yellow line down the middle)
This is the most concerning part. The bill defines EXPANSION as: ‘include, but are not limited to, an increase in cultivation area, water usage, energy usage, or the number or size of any structures used in connection with cultivation” So, if the farm would like to add extra water tanks/pond/solar panels/storage sheds they would have to apply for a new permit, be denied because they are not on a Cat 4 road, and would not be able to improve their farm. Many improvements are currently requirements of their permits..
- Lengthen the current forbearance period for an additional month. Currently cannabis farmers have to store the water they use from April 1- Oct, per Department of Fish and Game recommendations. But by changing the definition of “Expansion” to include water tanks this change would be near impossible to add additional water tanks to comply with. It’s a catch 22.
- Limits new and expanded permits to outdoor/mixed light less than 10,000 sq ft of cultivation or nursery. Many farms have multiple permits. They need them to be viable businesses. New permits for Production, Distribution, Manufacturing, Eco-Tourism, Self-transport are all separate licenses that would then by excluded from the bill.
So be aware when you see these folks with their little “Save Humboldt from Corporate Cannabis” sign. They will show you a map of Humboldt County with 1,000 dots representing Humboldt’s legal cannabis industry density. Those are our family farms! We are the folks who came into compliance and are legally farming. Unfortunately, that number has dropped by 25% in the last few months due to market conditions. We are losing family farms every day; the industry is contracting, not expanding! The proponents will tell you that 2,700 new permits will be issued next year, which is inaccurate and demonstrates a lack of understanding that one permit does not equal one farm. One farm may have a half-dozen authorizations, which come as a permit. So the most likely number of new or expanded farms “in the queue” is less than 150, which may or may not ever get through permitting to be built.
Legal farms in Humboldt County are already the most thoroughly regulated and scrutinized industry California has ever devised. As a small farmer, I can state that remaining compliant means keeping my business and family safe. I do not believe that the changes to public policy that the proponents are seeking will result in a better protected environment, nor will it make for a better Humboldt County.