Marijuana Farm Tours?

by Daniel Mintz, September 7, 2016

A letter from the owner of a Humboldt County business that seeks to provide “educational and fun cannabis-themed tours of the Emerald Triangle” has motivated Humboldt County to explore how such operations should be licensed.

The questions surrounding the licensing of medical marijuana farm tours were discussed at HumCo’s Sept. 1 Planning Commission meeting.

The discussion responded to a letter to the Planning Department from Matt Kurth, the owner of Humboldt Cannabis Tours.

In his letter, Kurth informs that his business only involves tours of the county’s marijuana farms and not buying or transporting the actual product.

“I have one difficult hurdle to get over,” said Kurth in his letter. “My business license is held up at the Planning Department because they consider us a cannabis business.”

His business’ link to cannabis is “only in name,” he continued, but “Humboldt Cannabis Tours has been lumped in with applications for transporters, of which there are many.”

He added that “I do not want or think I need a cannabis transportation license” and 25 potential farm group tour stops have been turned down due to the lack of licensing.

Senior Planner Steve Werner said the letter had only been brought to his attention that day. “I think we’ll see more of this as this industry comes out of the shadows and becomes more and more a part of our everyday lives,” he told commissioners.

He added that owners of conventional farms may have concerns about tour buses travelling on private roads to access stops. Werner also said state law does have a license category for so-called “bud and breakfast” businesses but patients are required to obtain medical marijuana from dispensaries.

He said mere observation of marijuana farming seems to fall “somewhere in between” the county’s current farming-related business activities.

“Staff would like to take this matter under review and come back with some additional guidance to your commission and to the applicant as well,” Werner told commissioners.

Commission Chair Bob Morris said any issues with Kurth’s proposal are likely linked to his business’ name. “If he hadn’t had the word ‘cannabis’ in there, it might have gone right on through,” he said.

Commissioner Noah Levy said Kurth’s letter “makes a persuasive case.” He also noted Kurth’s mention of licensed tour buses from other counties travelling to Humboldt for marijuana farm visits.

“What would happen if we learn that there’s a Sonoma County tour operator that’s deciding to take folks from down there to view Humboldt cannabis farms?” Levy asked Werner. “What would be the issues that arise under our cannabis ordinances as you understand them?”

Werner reiterated that the matter needs to be reviewed by staff, particularly in regard to what kind of license a tour operation would need.

Commissioner Ben Shepherd suggested that a marijuana farm tour should be treated like any other type of tourism. “We need to look at this from the perspective that this is now a legal thing,” he said. “This person is a business person asking for what I think is a very simple thing.”

Buying and transporting issues aren’t relevant to Kurth’s proposal, Shepherd continued.

It’s a business idea that’s in broader development, he said, adding that “I am aware that there are people from Europe already contacting areas here, who want to do tours.”

Shepherd said if Humboldt doesn’t license local touring operations, out-of-town businesses will control the marijuana tourism market.

“We all have to get over this,” he continued.

But the conversation abruptly ended when Commissioner Kevin McKenny pointed out that the Board of Supervisors has advised the commission not to take up issues that fall outside of land use.

Morris agreed and the commission moved to another agenda item.

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