Supervisors Pass the Buck on Problem Pot

April, 2015

On March 12, a suspect in a violent Southern Humboldt home invasion robbery was apprehended near my house after a police pursuit through Eureka. The day before, the jury on which I nearly served found a man guilty of murdering an Alderpoint resident. And the week before, I was randomly assaulted outside my home. The previous encounter may not be directly related to our region’s #1 cash crop, but together these events are a personal reminder that Humboldt County’s violent crime rate has been rising—even as the state’s has been falling.

Tied to this violence is an endless string of abuses committed against our planet for profit. When some people look at our region’s remote places—our forests, secluded property and flowing streams—they see not wildness but mountains of money.

When California Cannabis Voice Humboldt (CCVH), the marijuana industry group that has been anointed by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to draft their own marijuana ordinance gave a presentation to the Board in late February, they glossed over the harms to our region at the hands of an unregulated industry, ignored what their draft ordinance actually says, and instead focused on how the marijuana market produces pallets of cash.

Hearing the presentation, two questions came to mind. First, what good is all the money in the world when our streams are sucked dry and violent crime escalates by the day enabled by a black market industry out of control?

Second, why are our elected representatives so eager to hand over work of drafting a marijuana ordinance to the very industry that needs to be regulated? We need only to look at what happens when timber barons and fossil fuel executives write their own rules to know this is probably a bad idea.

Reading the most recent draft ordinance, it seems CCVH’s primary goal is to legitimize existing operations and pave the way for more and bigger grows—never mind the consequences. CCVH has released six drafts of their ordinance, but have yet to include meaningful provisions to address environmental and social harms of black market marijuana production. All six iterations have ignored what many have repeatedly raised as critical components of a countywide marijuana ordinance: caps on cultivation area to preclude industrial-scale production in remote locations; a halt to dry season stream diversions and water trucking; a prohibition on pesticides; and a revenue source for real enforcement.

So, what does CCVH’s ordinance actually propose? The current draft would allow marijuana grows on every private parcel larger than five acres in unincorporated areas of Humboldt County. This is over 15,000 parcels, encompassing more than 800,000 acres. The proposed ordinance would allow up to 5,000 square foot, half-million dollar a year operations without site-specific permits—effectively doubling the average size of grows we see today.

What’s more, the ordinance would allow mega-grows up to 10,000 square feet so long as they get approval from the County Planning Commission—and up to 20,000 square feet with Supervisor approval. And although CCVH’s ordinance talks a good game about the importance of protecting our environment, the majority of the protections it contains are essentially voluntary.

While we commend those who grow responsibly, there are far too many who suck water out of critical salmon streams, use toxic pesticides, and doze forests for roads and grow sites. Environmental and criminal law enforcement agencies cannot keep up with monitoring and enforcement of existing operations. We need true regulation to rein in an industry that has gotten out of hand. Significantly increasing the scale and scope of cultivation activities as CCVH proposes will increase damage to our waterways, forests, and communities.

Our elected representatives are backing an industry-led group whose chief objective is to legitimize industrial-scale grows when salmon populations are at a tipping point and violent crime rates are rising. Our Board of Supervisors must take the lead on a public process to create a marijuana ordinance that, first and foremost, addresses ongoing environmental and social harms associated with marijuana cultivation. Certainly CCVH should be invited to participate, but they should not be running the show.

An ordinance of this significance requires a truly open, public process with input from community groups, teachers, law enforcement agencies, health care providers, resource professionals, conservation advocates and the public as a whole. While we may not be able to end all the violence and environmental damage, we must do what we can to build a better, safer future for our region and all its inhabitants.