Humboldt Urged to Rush New Pot Ordinance

by Daniel Mintz, November 18, 2009

Marijuana cultivation is among the many issues Humboldt County’s covering in its General Plan Update but the chairman of the Planning Commission has said that impacts of indoor grows are severe enough to warrant quicker action on a new regulatory ordinance.

County planning staff has been working on a marijuana cultivation ordinance and told commissioners at their Nov. 12 meeting that a draft ordinance will soon be ready.

One of the directives of the Update’s Urban Lands section is to “develop an ordinance for medical marijuana cultivation and dispensing to ensure health, safety and welfare and compatibility of neighboring uses.” A related policy adds that “a patient’s right to medical marijuana” will not be interfered with.

Commission Chairman Jeffrey C. Smith wanted drafting an ordinance to be a priority. He said the policy recommendation is “so generic that it certainly loses the intent of what I’m trying to drive at — I’m really trying to focus on the residential component.”

Smith said that it’s the activities of growers in residences, not dispensaries, that he’s concerned about. “I’m trying to specifically drive at the fires that are happening, the home invasions,” he said.

When Supervising Planner Tom Hofweber said dispensaries can be regulated through Conditional Use Permits — and that the county has pending applications for them — Smith reiterated his concerns.

“Well, it’s all tied up, as to where does it come from,” said Hofweber.

“When I read the newspaper, I haven’t heard of a lot of violent criminal activity going on around dispensaries, or dispensaries burning down,” Smith said. “I’m worried about the public health aspect, and safety aspects, of fairly sizeable marijuana grows happening in homes in residential neighborhoods.”

He added, “We have a real problem right now and this feels like a punt, to deal with it sometime in the future.”

But the Board of Supervisors has started a process to draft a new marijuana ordinance and has formed a subcommittee on it. Community Development Services Director Kirk Girard said planning staff has been “spending a lot of time on this.”

The City of Arcata’s marijuana ordinance “may become a model for all jurisdictions” in the county, Girard said, to ensure consistency. All aspects of cultivation would be dealt with in ordinance, he continued.

He summarized the residential aspects derived from Arcata’s marijuana ordinance — the recommendation is for a 50-square-foot medical marijuana growing area with one light. If there are two patient growers in one house, it would go to 100-square-feet and two lights.

“That would be the cut-off for principally permitted residential grows,” said Girard.

The county’s current medical marijuana ordinance allows a 100-square-foot growing area per patient.

Referring to Arcata’s comprehensive ordinance, Deputy County Counsel Carolyn Ruth said the county “doesn’t really need to re-invent the wheel.”

The pervasiveness of marijuana-growing was alluded to when Smith talked about the potential contents of an ordinance. “I don’t know exactly what one light and two light and three light grows mean, and all that kind of stuff,” he said.

“Sure you don’t, Jeff,” said Girard.

Smith ignored the comment and said the amount of what’s grown is related to the potential for robberies.

Davina Smith, the county planner who’s drafting the new county ordinance, said she’s surveyed general plans from other counties and found none with medical marijuana policies. Laws are changing too quickly for that, she continued.

She highlighted the need for an updated ordinance. “The things you’re reading in the papers, with home invasions, is that people are doing large scale marijuana cultivation in residential areas — clearly, that is not a beneficial use for the health, safety and welfare of the community and the residents of those neighborhoods,” she said, citing a 3,000-plant residential grow as an example.

She added that other impacts are traffic, “noxious odors” and greenhouse gas emissions from the pumping of carbon dioxide gas, which is used to promote plant growth.

There was some question about the potential outcome of marijuana legalization. County Planner Smith said an ordinance would still be needed to limit the scale of residential grows.

With that discussion and a commitment to bring forth a “skeletal” version of an ordinance at this week’s commission meeting, Chairman Smith said he was convinced that the county’s progress on marijuana regulation has been adequate.

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