Humboldt County, Arcata Bans Medical Marijuana Grows from Commercial District!
ARCATA BANS MEDICAL MARIJUANA GROWS FROM COMMERCIAL DISTRICT AS MEDICAL MARIJUANA BLOSSOMS IN A LYNCH MOB ENVIRONMENT, ARCATA IS STEPS AHEAD OF THE GAME THANKS TO ALL THE FORWARD THINKING YOUNG PEOPLE!
FROM THE ARCATA EYE
ARCATA – The burgeoning legal marijuana trade downtown took a hit last week as the Planning Commission denied a building permit for a cultivation facility to The Humboldt Cooperative (THC), one of three medical cannabis dispensaries located in the Central Business District.
The denial, which may be appealed to the City Council, renders moot a similar building permit application by the just-opened Humboldt Medical Supply (HMS) dispensary.
In a sequence of itemized findings, the Planco decided that cannabis dispensaries are medical offices; that medical marijuana growing is neither an allowed use or “accessory” use; and that such growing is agriculture, which is not allowed downtown.
Medical marijuana cultivation will still be allowed in industrial zones away from the Central Business District. Processing – that is, drying, weighing and packaging – the marijuana will be allowed in those zones, but not dispensing.
If the decisions stand, THC, which already maintains a large-scale marijuana grow in the former Isackson Ford body shop, may have to dismantle it. HMS, which just opened the front office portion of its operation at the former P.C. Sacchi Chevrolet garage, currently cultivates its medicine elsewhere but had prepared three large rooms there for cultivation.
The third business district cannabis dispensary, Humboldt Patient Resource Center (HPRC), also grows marijuana on site. While HPRC’s grow wasn’t the subject of the Planco hearing, the decisions could eventually affect its grow as well, Community Development Director Larry Oetker acknowledged Friday.
In the wake of the decisions, managers of the three downtown clinics met at HMS Thursday afternoon to evaluate the situation and plan their response. There are mixed reports as to whether the clinicians found anything useful in the current Land Use Development Guide (LUDG) on which to hang their hat in terms of an appeal.
Still, the council does have the power to override the Planco on other grounds apart from the LUDG. It could also counter the commission’s land use decision regarding agriculture downtown in formulating the new Land Use Code, which will replace the LUDG.
Carla Ritter, who manages the dispensary whose building permit was denied, called the whole matter a “big silliness.” She said that the real problem facing Arcata insofar as medical cannabis is unregulated grow houses and their impacts rather than the professionally managed grows at the dispensaries.
“The dialogue didn’t seem to be on point,” Ritter said. “We should separate the dispensaries’ grows from the grow houses, because that’s the issue.”
She and others pointed out that the effect of the decision could be to increase clinic purchases from unlicensed and unregulated grow houses. Clinicians have said that they acquire cannabis from grow house merchants reluctantly, because they don’t know what conditions the cannabis medicine has been grown under – for example, what types of mold-suppressing fumigants might be used, and the cleanliness of the processing facilities, which often include bathrooms.
The Planning Commission meeting which threw the existing co-located grow-process-dispense paradigm for a loop was as festooned with cannabis news nuggets as a bud-bedecked, mature marijuana plant.
Despite the strongly-held opinions and big money involved in the contemporary cannabis scene, and unlike typically emotion-laden City Council meetings on the matter, the commission’s discussion remained mostly on track as it burned through the sequence of issues and possible findings set forth by Oetker.
Senior Planner Mike Mullen noted that medical marijuana dispensaries weren’t anticipated in the 1970s, when the current LUDG was developed. However, the current set of questions are useful in formulating language for the coming LUC.
Oetker described HMC as eager to cooperate in obtaining a building permit after being notified of the need for one by City building officials. He again stressed that although the City Council had previously expressed eagerness to review the issue of downtown cannabis cultivation, agriculture is not an allowed use in the LUDG, so the building permit became Planco business.
“We have to follow the procedures outlined in the LUDG,” Oetker said. “Those procedures say that those determinations should be forwarded on to the Planning Commission to review.”
Oetker also sought to keep the discussion on topic by enumerating the marijuana-related matters not being presented for review, including Prop 215, personal medical or recreational marijuana cultivation and use, grow houses or existing and unpermitted dispensaries that grow, process and dispense.
“We’re discussing a single building permit application that’s before us,” Oetker said. He stated his opinion that THC’s 3,650 square foot cultivation operation was not a subordinate use to its 477 square foot front-office dispensary business, which is in a separate building.
He said the commission was the most appropriate forum to determine land use designations for the cultivation, processing and dispensing of medical cannabis.
As to whether cannabis dispensaries are equivalent to medical offices or pharmacies, commissioners wondered whether they had medically trained personnel on staff.
“I was surprised to learn that [at] some of the dispensaries in town, it’s just a matter of, any Joe off the street can go and pay 50 bucks for a business license, rent commercial space and start selling pot,” said Chair Robert Flint. He said a medical office would be more like the licensed caregiver who was recently granted a Conditional Use Permit to dispense – but not grow – cannabis at the Cooper Building on Samoa Boulevard.
Commissioner Paul Hagen called the cultivation-processing-dispensing model “a whole new animal” that requires a complete redefinition.
Ritter said that while THC doesn’t have an in-house pharmacist, potential customers must undergo “very, very regulated process that potential patients must undergo to gain access to cannabis there.” She offered to move the dispensary office into the grow room area if that would help meet legal requirements. She said THC grows its crops organically and with little to no environmental impact.
HMS Director Eric Heimstadt said the now-defunct Humboldt Medical Cannabis Center had a permit for a grow dating back to the 1990s, and that HPRC also had a permit. Heimstadt cited provisions of the Arcata Municipal Code and LUDG that he said seem to permit current clinic practices.
By way of encouraging the commission to allow ag use, he said on-site growing gives clinicians more control and confidence in the purity of the marijuana. He also noted that the clinics provide jobs and bring considerable tax revenue to the City.
Flint asked if patients’ pot purchases were limited in terms of quantity at HMS, and Heimstadt said they were. Flint further asked if HMS cross-checks with other clinics to ensure that patients aren’t shopping at multiple sources, and Heimstadt said no. HMS Nurse Pam Sistrom said the clinic grows help suppress grow house proliferation.
Commissioners then discussed the multifold issues, debating whether or not cannabis cultivation is agriculture. It ultimately agreed with Oetker that it is by a 6–1 vote, and also voted that processing isn’t allowed at medical office-type dispensaries. Those determinations essentially killed the THC building permit.
DEA on the way?
Hagen said he and most others have no wish to counter the Compassionate Use Act. Flint agreed, and further asserted that “pot is going to be a problem in society until it’s legal everywhere, because that would devalue it.”
He said the present legal climate encourages illegal and indoor grows with innumerable thousand-watt lamps consuming vast amounts of energy, some powered by polluting diesel generators. “There’s your environmental damage,” he said.
Flint also said that Arcata’s explosive dispensary and cannabis grow scene is “so over the top… that at any moment the DEA could come in and crack down and shut it all down.” Said Flint, “They’ve done that in Oakland, and don’t think we’re hiding behind the Redwood Curtain. The DEA knows where Humboldt County is… and I think they know what’s going on here.”
That, he said, would end access to medical cannabis for “people who really need it… I think that’s a legitimate concern.”
Oetker said that in almost any other community, the Planco’s decisons would be considered extremely tolerant. “You can still sell medical marijuana in downtown Arcata, and you can still grow medical marijuana in the industrial areas without a land use permit,” Oetker said.