Proposed Local Zoning Regulations Regarding Medical Marijuana: What’s Being Proposed?

Changes are coming to local regulation of the medical marijuana industry. Both the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and the Arcata City Council are both considering ordinances governing the cultivation, manufacturing, and retail distribution of medical marijuana here on the North Coast.

In response to the enactment of SB 643, AB 266, and AB 243, Humboldt County released a draft ordinance for the outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana in early October, 2015. The following are a few of the highlights from the draft ordinance: 

  • Cannabis can only be grown on certain land use zones designated agriculture exclusive or rural residential agriculture. 
  • Conditional use permits may be issued for grows on commercial timberland, forestry recreation or timber production zones only if the sites existed prior to Sept. 1, 2015 and are brought into compliance with state and county codes.
  • Grows with cultivation areas larger than 10,000 square feet will only be allowed on general agriculture parcels 5 acres or large with particular soils and less than 15 percent slopes. Also, growers will have to provide documented water rights or non-diversionary water sources. 
  • A complicated tier structure will be implemented for grows located on different types of parcels with cultivation areas up to one acre.
  • Cannabis Cultivation will not be principally permitted, which means that a conditional zoning clearance, conditional special permit, or conditional use permit must be obtained from the County and the person engaged in the activity will have to obtain all state licenses and permits which may be required by state licensing authorities.
  • Permit applications will require detailed cultivation plans, photos of the operation prior to September 1, 2015, consent of parcel owners, setback plans, consent for onsite inspections, and agreements not to divert water between March 1 and October 30. 

Responses to the proposed ordinance has been varied. This month, the Humboldt County Planning Commission has been considering the proposed ordinance and taking public comment in order to provide recommendations on the ordinance to the Board of Supervisors. Public comments in opposition to the draft ordinance argue that the draft ordinance is too restrictive for larger grows and will prevent growers from coming into compliance. Public comments in support suggest that the restrictions on large grows are necessary to protect the environmental health of the community and a limit should be placed on the total number of marijuana cultivation permits issued by the county. Steve Lazar, senior planner at the Planning Commission, has suggested the following policy concepts that should be considered: 

  • Offering a provisional license that would give existing farms time to come into compliance with county codes while continuing to operate.
  • Identifying a “Humboldt Heritage” type of permit, which would give an edge to farmers who live at their cultivation sites and follow best environmental practices. 
  • Discouraging indoor growing on ag-zoned parcels.
  • A cap on the total number of permits issued.

Meanwhile, in Arcata, the Arcata City Council has been holding meetings on its proposed “Medical Marijuana Innovation Zone.” The ordinance would provide for zones, located on West End Road in Arcata, where medical marijuana businesses would be permitted to operate. The proposed requirements for operating within the zone are the following: 

  • Obtain a City Business license; 
  • Submit a complete application for a ministerial minor use permit reviewed by the City’s Zoning Administrator; and
  • Prepay the annual monitoring fee. 

Upon compliance with the above, city staff would prepare standardized conditions of approval which would include the requirement to submit an Annual Performance Review Report. Failure to submit the report within the time specified or adequately provide documentation of compliance with the standardized Conditions of Approval would be grounds for initiating permit revocation.

On November 18, 2015, the Arcata City Council approved an addition to the Innovation Zone. The Zone would now encompass both Area A, the old Flakeboard site, as well as Area C depicted in the map below.

If you have questions regarding the status of these proposed ordinances, or have questions regarding how to become compliant with State and local regulations, please contact the attorneys at Janssen Malloy LLP.   We will be able to assist you.