New Cannabis Ordinance: Good on Paper!

October, 2017



Cannabis sativa plants. Photo: Wikimedia CC, user Chmee2.

Cannabis sativa plants. Photo: Wikimedia CC, user Chmee2.

Humboldt County has released a draft ordinance that would regulate future recreational and medical cannabis cultivation, processing, distribution, testing, and sale, and the necessary draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that examines the potential environmental impacts of the ordinance. Describing the ordinance and the environmental document in a few words is tough—together, all documents total over 1,000 pages. Here’s a simplified summary.

The draft ordinance itself is a respectable piece of regulation. Adherence to it would significantly reduce the environmental impacts from an individual cannabis farm through numerous mandatory conservation measures. The draft ordinance, among other things:

• Requires stored water be used to grow plants, in most circumstances, and outlaws water trucks.
• Bans all light pollution from cultivation.
• Significantly reduces generator use (banned for most operations) and noise.
• Mandates good soil conservation and treatment, which in turn will reduce pollution and increase soil carbon sequestration.

In addition to built-in protections, the draft EIR identified additional mitigation measures that must be adhered to in order to reduce and mitigate potentially significant environmental impacts. These additional mitigation measures significantly “up” the level of protection afforded by the county’s cannabis program. (For example, the draft EIR mandates surveys for rare and sensitive species and protections for their habitat.)

In sum, a cannabis farm that adheres to this ordinance is highly unlikely to cause a significant environmental effect, and, in fact, would cause less impacts than virtually any other kind of farm, as no other farms are regulated so tightly. This is a good thing.

The problem is that Humboldt County still struggles with illegal and unpermitted grows. The destruction in the hills will not be solved by this ordinance because so much of the damage is coming from black market grow operations—those that have refused to participate in any of the nascent attempts at regulation. Humboldt will continue to suffer environmental harm until there is sufficient enforcement against those who violate the law.

EPIC, the NEC, and others question whether the county should permit additional new cannabis farms when it is already struggling to enforce existing regulation.

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