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After hearing a staff report and voluminous public comment on a ballot initiative that would enact a slate of new permitting rules for cannabis farms, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to form an ad-hoc committee to potentially change the initiative.
Humboldt Cannabis reform initiative — which received over 7,000 petition signatures and will be on the March 2024 ballot — would eliminate mixed-light and indoor farming, limit the number of permits the county can issue, cap farm size to 10,000 square feet and only allow one cultivation permit to be issued per person or corporation. Humboldt County Planning and Building Director John Ford told the supervisors that the initiative, if approved by voters, would destroy the viability of legal cannabis farming in the county.
“We could see farms shutting down just because they can’t comply with the regulatory requirements that have been put in place,” Ford said.
The supervisors also heard hours of universally negative public comment. Growers, cannabis interest groups, residents and other businesses spoke to the board to describe their opposition. Cannabis farmers told the board the initiative would put them out of business.
One commenter, Matt Kurth, owner of Humboldt Cannabis Tours, told the supervisors that if passed, the initiative would destroy cannabis tourism in Humboldt County within a year.
“This is an existential threat to cannabis tourism,” Kurth said. “If we want to do cannabis tourism at all, in the future here in our county, that means this initiative can’t pass.”
Other commenters told the supervisors that they signed the petition and regretted it because they feel that either they didn’t completely understand the impact it would have, or that they were intentionally misled over how it would affect the county’s cannabis farmers.
The proponents of the bill, Mark Thurmond and Elizabeth Watson, were not present for the meeting. Thurmond did not respond by the Times-Standard’s print deadline, but Watson said she was attempting to access the meeting via Zoom but was going through power issues at her home in Kneeland. She added that Thurmond has not been able to leave his property in Kneeland for eight days due to snow and road closures.
Watson said she and Thurmond will meet with the ad-hoc committee next week, but that they are unwilling to pull the initiative if the supervisors ask.
“The (cannabis) industry is in the ditch and we haven’t done a thing yet. Our idea is, we think that this is an important part of our economy and we think the initiative will set the county up for when the Feds (legalize) and things come back up,” Watson said. “It’s a boom-bust kind of thing. We think we’re looking to the future.”
Watson said she and Thurmond would be issuing a news release next week responding to Ford’s conclusions about the initiative.
The initiative would also cap permits at 900 and the county is at 1,027 applications, meaning no new applications would be accepted, Ford said.
“We get it’s unattainable, it’s probably unenforceable, and it just doesn’t put a nail in the coffin,” First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said. “It digs the hole, names the cemetery and puts everybody in a mass grave and I just don’t think that’s where we need to be right now.”