No new medical marijuana dispensaries will be permitted in Humboldt County for at least 45 days after the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to approve a temporary moratorium.
Assistant Humboldt County Counsel Carolyn Ruth said the county is awaiting more information from the Pack vs. Superior Court case to see whether local governments can regulate marijuana dispensaries. Pack alleged federal law — which deems marijuana an illegal substance — pre-empted the city of Long Beach’s right to regulate marijuana.
”The purpose of this moratorium is to review the county’s authority,” Ruth said.
She said the temporary moratorium will not affect the three medical marijuana dispensaries that are currently operating in the county under conditional use permits approved by the Humboldt County Planning Commission. The moratorium will apply to those that have submitted applications to open new dispensaries.
”We currently have seven applications for permits, and one more was just received,” Ruth said.
Fewer than 20 people showed up to the meeting on Tuesday, with a handful speaking during the public comment period. While one dispensary applicant said he’s comfortable with the moratorium given the current legal landscape, others urged the board to take a stance against the federal government’s threat to crack down on dispensaries.
Alison Sterling Nichols, executive director of the Humboldt Growers
Association, said the supervisors shouldn’t be afraid of potential repercussions.
”There’s not one elected official that has been charged in civil or criminal court,” Nichols said. “They haven’t carried anybody off in your positions.”
One woman stood up before the board and pulled three small bags of marijuana out of her purse and said if dispensaries are shut down, she won’t be able to have access to her medicine.
Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace said none of the supervisors were pleased with the situation.
”We’re having to try to make progress as best we can,” Lovelace said.
The moratorium will be in effect for 45 days, after which any extensions must be brought back to the board for approval. In the meantime, county staff said all the applications they have will remain in a holding pattern, and no new ones will be accepted.
During Tuesday’s afternoon session, the supervisors also approved an ordinance that will govern the indoor cultivation of medical marijuana in single-family residences and detached buildings. The new ordinance allows a certain amount of medical
marijuana to be grown per household and not per person — a change from the ordinance currently in place.
County staff presented the board with three alternatives: limiting indoor cultivations to 50 square feet, limiting a cultivation space to 100 square feet and allowing cultivations of 50-100 square feet with the understanding that certain standards must be met.
Humboldt County Community Services Director Kirk Girard said county staff tried to come up with different scenarios that match what other local entities have done.
”Our sister jurisdictions in Arcata and Eureka allow up to 100 square feet with a special permit,” Girard said.
He said under the Pack case, the first two alternatives are the safest as they don’t place special performance standards on indoor grows — which could be seen as allowing or permitting medical marijuana grows in the eyes of the federal government.
Deputy Humboldt County Counsel Davina Smith agreed and said the first two alternatives have the same legal risk. She said the third alternative starts to indicate that the county is allowing the grows as more restrictions are put in place.
”It’s as close as we can get to a permitting scheme without crossing the line,” Smith said. “It is a little more legally risky.”
On a motion made by 1st District Supervisor Jimmy Smith, the board voted 4-1 to approve the first alternative which allows for indoor medical marijuana grows of up to 50 square feet. Lovelace cast the dissenting vote and said he was in favor of the third alternative that allows for grows of up to 100 square feet with special restrictions.
Carla Ritter, with the Humboldt Patient Dispensary Alliance, said the approved alternative could prove to be problematic as it doesn’t provide enough space to grow in.
”It will increase illegal grow houses in the county,” Ritter said.
Girard said the ordinance will be enforced upon complaint, meaning there is no registration or permitting process in place with the county. The ordinance will only be enforced if complaints are received about a residence.
Megan Hansen can be reached at 441-0511 or [email protected]