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(UPDATED) County Extends Registration Deadline for Existing Marijuana Growers, Prompting Renewed Legal Threat


September 27, 2016

UPDATE, 3:15 p.m.: Internal documents from the county, obtained by the Outpost, show that staff and supervisors wrestled with the significance of the Aug. 23 deadline before deciding, late last week, to allow farmers with existing grows to continue registering through the end of the year. 

HuMMAP believes this decision violates not only the letter of the county’s own Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance but also the settlement agreement the group reached with the county earlier this year. In the letter delivered to the county earlier today, HuMMAP attorney Rachel S. Doughty points to section 55.4.9.4 of the county’s Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance, which states:

All operators of existing cultivation sites seeking recognition of cultivation activities that occurred on or before January 1, 2016, for purposes of obtaining a Zoning Clearance Certificate or discretionary permit for ongoing commercial cannabis cultivation for medical use pursuant to the CMMLUO shall register with the County of Humboldt Department of Planning & Building within 180 days of the effective date of this ordinance. 

HuMMAP argues that the language here is plain: If a grower wanted to get a permit or a Zoning Clearance Certificate for an existing grow operation, he or she needed to do so before Aug. 23 (which was 180 days after the ordinance effective date). 

But in a department policy statement signed last Thursday by Interim Building and Planning Director Rob Wall, staff says HuMMAP’s view represents just one of two ways to interpret the language of the ordinance. The other way to read it, staff argues, is that farmers with existing grow operations can still register after the Aug. 23 deadline; they just won’t get the preferred status that comes with being in “good standing.”

In defense of this argument staff notes that elsewhere in the ordinance — as well as state law — it says growers have until the end of the year to register. There’s conflicting information, in other words. The matter is unclear. So who decides how to interpret it?

“Section 311-4 of the Zoning regulations provides that where the regulations are unclear, the Director may interpret the code and provide guidance as to the application of the regulations,” the policy statement reads. 

Staff, including Wall, ultimately advocated for the latter interpretation, arguing that the plain language of section 55.4.9.4 is trumped by the Board of Supervisors’ legislative intent with the original ordinance, signed back in December. One of the primary goals of that ordinance is to reduce the environmental harm of the black market industry having growers register and comply with performance standards. “That goal is best met by maximizing the participation of existing cannabis cultivators in the legitimate medical cannabis regulatory regime and marketplace,” staff concludes. 

And so, given the alleged ambiguity of the ordinance, the county decided to keep accepting registration applications through the end of the year.

HuMMAP disagrees with the county’s interpretation of the ordinance and says that if the county doesn’t promise by tomorrow, Tuesday Sept. 27, not to issue any more commercial grow permits to existing cultivators, then HuMMAP will “file an application for an order to show cause why the County should not be held in contempt for violation of the terms of the settlement agreement… .”

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