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HumCo Commission Approves 1-acre Pot Patch Limit

The latest version of the county’s draft ordinance on commercial production of medical marijuana includes significantly expanded grow sizes and now allows a maximum grow size of one acre on parcels 30 acres or over.

Mirroring the maximum outlined in state legislation, the county’s Planning Commission decided to allow grows of up to an acre with conditional use permits at its Nov. 20 special meeting.

The implications of policies on grow sizes and permitting thresholds provoked plenty of debate as commissioners balanced the consequences of allowing too much and too little leeway for the production of medical marijuana.

Commissioners also struggled with the question of how many indoor and outdoor cultivation permits should be allowed per person, per agricultural or industrial parcel. The impacts of allowing multiple permits concerned commissioners but they also acknowledged that ag land owners often lease segments of their properties to aspiring farmers.

Commissioner Kevin McKenney made a motion to generally allow only one permit per parcel. Under his proposal, anyone seeking additional permits would have to go before the Planning Commission for approval.

But Brad Johnson, an attorney from a Sacramento-based law firm that’s representing a local client, said the proposed restriction would be far stricter than what’s in state law.

“I’m not certain what the rationale for that exactly is, given that every county in the state is going be adopting similar ordinances and at some point, there will be an economic decision amongst grow operators about where it’s more economical to grow,” he continued.

Johnson asked commissioners, “Why wouldn’t you use this opportunity to allow for the greatest financial use of the agricultural properties in the county?”

The owner of a large agricultural parcel in the Arcata Bottom area warned that limiting permits would “create a subdivision frenzy” as ag land owners with large parcels will want to gain multiple permits.

McKinney’s motion failed in a 3-3 tie vote. Commissioner Lee Ulansey noted that state law does consider that single entities will operate multiple grow sites and he motioned to allow a maximum of four permits per person.

Ulansey’s motion was approved, with McKinney dissenting.

In a related vote, a majority of commissioners voted not to restrict the number of permits within previously-established grow area allowances.

There was extended discussion on the issue of capping maximum grow size. Previously, commissioners had approved grow areas under various permit scenarios but hadn’t set a grow size limit.

When commissioners debated what the maximum grow size should be for parcels from 30 to 320 acres and over, some supported going up to the state’s maximum of one-acre.

But Commission Chair Bob Morris is wary of that. “I’m uncomfortable with acre-sized grows – those are mega-grows in my opinion and I don’t think that fits the tenure or the tradition of the county,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting, commissioners had approved allowing indoor grows of up 20,000 square feet in industrial and heavy commercial areas with basic ministerial permits. Commissioner Ben Shepherd said allowing about twice that size on larger parcels isn’t a drastic difference.

But his motion to allow a one-acre maximum on parcels between 30 to 320 acres with a conditional use permit failed with another tie vote.

McKenney motioned to allow one-acre maximums on parcels of 320 acres or more. And he expressed some reservations about the commission’s previous decisions.

“I think what’s happening is, in a cumulative sense with how the process has taken shape here -- it’s gotten to some degree out of hand,” he said. “We don’t have any caps, we increased the sizes and now we’ve increased the number of licenses a person can have.”

During one of the intermittent public comment periods opened throughout the meeting, farmland owners said a one-acre maximum is appropriate on parcels of 30 acres and up if marijuana is to be treated as an agricultural product.

Ulansey agreed, saying requiring conditional use permits for one-acre grows will ensure that impacts are considered and addressed.

McKenney withdrew his motion and Morris clarified that without voting on a cap, the ordinance’s maximum grow area defaults to the state’s one-acre limit under a conditional use permit.

“I don’t like it but I guess I’m in the minority,” Morris said.

The commission’s final approval of the new draft is set for Dec. 3.

One Comment

  1. izzy December 12, 2015

    I wonder when somebody will start talking about a cap on prices. If there are acre-size “agricultural” plots of anything with a value approaching a thousand dollars a pound or more, the rip-off industry that springs up along with them will be an enormous and potentially deadly law enforcement headache. It will be like planting fields of money in an economically depressed area. The whole legalization circus gets crazier with each new piecemeal patch.

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