Not all medical marijuana is equal in the Emerald Triangle, at least as far as regulations go.
Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties each passed commercial medical marijuana regulations this year, but some state that Humboldt’s rules have put the county well ahead of their neighbors.
California Growers Association Executive Director Hezekiah Allen said that Humboldt County’s ordinance is currently the most comprehensive, but added Mendocino and Trinity might be working to catch up in the near future.
“Humboldt has the most robust ordinance,” he said. “In a lot of ways, Trinity and Mendocino are where Humboldt was about a year ago.”
CULTIVATION AND SALES
If growers want a bigger crop size, then Humboldt County is currently the place to be.
Humboldt currently allows up to an acre of outdoor cultivation area, up to 10,000 square feet of indoor cultivation, and 22,000 square feet of mixed-light cultivation per parcel of land, depending on the zone type. The county also allows for marijuana distribution, manufacturing, testing, dispensary and transport businesses.
Both Mendocino and Trinity counties passed urgency ordinances in May and August respectively, which are meant to be placeholders until permanent rules can be developed.
Mendocino currently allows medical marijuana patients to grow up to 25 plants without having to register with the county. In order to grow more plants, a farmer must have had an existing marijuana farm on or before Jan. 1, 2016, and must obtain a permit from the county Sheriff’s Office. The county set a 99-plant limit for outdoor grows depending on the size of the parcel and a 100-square-foot cultivation area limit for indoor grows.
The Mendocino marijuana community has since placed an initiative on the November ballot — The Mendocino Heritage Initiative or Measure AF — that would increase allowable cultivation sizes as well as expand the commercial market to include testing, nursery, manufacturing, dispensary, distribution and transport businesses. The initiative would allow indoor and mixed-light grows of up to 22,000 square feet and outdoor grows of up to an acre. The measure would also require more than half of the ownership of a business be people with a two-year proof of residency in Mendocino County.
Trinity County’s urgency ordinance currently mirrors the state’s commercial medical cannabis limits, but only allows for cultivation. The ordinance sets a 10,000-square-foot limit for indoor grows and mixed-light cultivation and 5,000 square feet for outdoor grows. The ordinance also prohibits cultivation near certain communities and on timber production zones, similar to Humboldt County’s rules.
Humboldt-Mendocino Marijuana Advocacy Project co-founder Robert Sutherland has his disputes with all three counties’ rules. His organization had filed a lawsuit against Humboldt County over environmental concerns of the marijuana regulations and is currently in a legal dispute claiming the county violated a court order.
But Sutherland also acknowledged the county had the “courage” to be the first county in the state to implement commercial medical marijuana rules, which were passed in January.
“Many other counties looked at what Humboldt was doing and liked parts of it, saw errors in some details and corrected them,” he said. “Mostly they did not take the high-profile road that Humboldt did.”
Currently, no medical marijuana taxes exist in the Emerald Triangle, but that may change after the Nov. 8 election.
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors placed a cultivation tax initiative, Measure S, on the ballot in order to fund the enforcement of its marijuana rules and use extra revenue to deal with substance abuse and child mental health services.
Measure S taxes farmers based on the size of their grows and the type of grows, with indoor being taxed the highest and outdoor the lowest. The tax rates range from $1 to $3 per square foot.
The tax has been criticized for using square-footage instead of product weight to assess the tax, which could financially impact farmers who have poor crop yields. Measure S has also been criticized for being a flat tax and for not scaling the tax depending on the size of the grow.
While Allen states he would have preferred the tax be placed on distributors rather than cultivators, he said his organization is supporting Measure S.
“Being as far along as Humboldt is, it only makes sense to bring that tax program online,” he said.
Mendocino County has two competing tax measures on its November ballot — one proposed by growers and another proposed by the county.
The grower-drafted Mendocino Heritage Initiative, known as Measure AF, would implement a 2.5 percent excise tax on all medical cannabis businesses and a 5 percent tax on “non-medical cannabis businesses.”
The competing county measure, Measure AI, would implement a 2.5 percent excise tax minimum rates for medical marijuana cultivation. Cultivators with less that 2,500 square feet of cultivation would pay a minimum of $1,250, $2,500 for grows between 2,500 and 5,000 square feet and $5,000 for grows larger than 5,000 square feet. The tax can be increased by the county after July 2020 in increments of 2.5 percent to a maximum of 10 percent. If the recreational marijuana legalization measure Proposition 64 passes this November, this tax rate would also apply to recreational operations.
All other marijuana businesses would be taxed at a flat rate of $2,500 per year under Measure AI, with that amount able to be increased after July 2020.
Allen states he hopes both measures will pass.
“That way the community gets the regulations and licensing and the county gets the revenue,” he said.
Trinity County currently has no tax measure on the ballot.
So with Humboldt County currently having the most permissive rules on the books so far, will that result in more people coming to Humboldt County to start their medical marijuana business?
Allen doesn’t believe that will happen, at least for the people that are looking to get permits.
“I really think that the people that are taking the trouble to get permits are the folks that have roots in their communities and they’ll be sticking around for a while,” he said.
Humboldt County will cease accepting business permit applications at the end of the year and won’t take any more until completing a full environmental review.
Sutherland said it’s too early to tell what changes will take place in the Emerald Triangle as the regulated market expands, especially with a potential recreational legalization market on the horizon.
“The situation is in flux. Big time flux,” he said. “It’s going to take years to shake this out, but on the other hand, let’s keep aiming at a good future.”
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.