Evades public process
“If the proponents were surprised by the negative reaction Measure A received by Humboldt County Planning Department, Board of Supervisors, Planning Commissioners, County Counsel, County Sheriff Dept., and legal HC cannabis growers it’s likely because they didn’t understand all the hard work, performed by hundreds of people, that went into drafting state, county and city rules governing cannabis. When one isn’t involved in the process, it’s easy to believe no one is doing anything!” - Former Arcata Mayor Susan Ornelas
In 2016 and 2018, the Humboldt Board of Supervisors passed two separate land use ordinances and completed an environmental review under CEQA to regulate and mitigate impacts of cannabis cultivation in Humboldt County. These ordinances and environmental analysis were developed through hundreds of hours of public input from people in every corner of the county - including cannabis cultivators, environmental groups, and neighborhood groups - as well as the county and state officials who would be responsible for implementing the program.
Measure A, by contrast, was written behind closed doors by a San Francisco law firm, with no opportunity for review or input from the public before it was submitted in final form on March 4, 2022, at which point it could no longer legally be changed. The initiative's 38 pages contain a range of dense, technical, and highly impactful language that was never subject to public input.
If Measure A were to pass, the Board of Supervisors would be further restricted from amending Humboldt’s cannabis ordinances, preventing the ordinance from being further amended in response to public input or changes to state or federal cannabis policy.
Targets small cannabis farmers, benefits corporate cannabis
“Measure A has been presented to preclude new large scale grows, but it will actually prevent existing permit holders, regardless of size, from being able to modify their permits to adapt to the evolving cannabis market and make strides towards greater environmental sustainability… The existing Humboldt County cannabis regulations are intended to encourage a well-regulated cannabis industry, but the HCRI could have the opposite effect by making compliance so difficult that the legal market is rendered not viable in Humboldt County.” -Humboldt County Planning and Building Department Analysis of Measure A
The vast majority of the provisions in Measure A would restrict all legal cannabis cultivation in Humboldt, regardless of size, and regardless of whether operations are existing or new. Measure A includes no provisions that would support or incentivize small-scale cannabis agriculture, only additional restrictions and red tape.
Many of the restrictions in Measure A are structured as poison pills that would be impossible for small cultivators to comply with. For example, Section CC-P13 of the initiative would require farmers to be located on “category 4” roads, which hundreds of existing farmers are not; local engineers estimate the cost of these upgrades at $200,000-$250,000 per mile, a cost which is only accessible for the largest of farms.
As another critical example, Measure A restricts “expansion” but defines this term so broadly as to include “any increase in the number or size of any structure used in connection with cultivation.” The result is that small, working farms would be prevented from adding new and improved structures to their farm, many of which would double as both environmental improvements and structures that retain on-farm value for craft, high-quality products. Examples include building a new drying shed, nursery room, clone room, ADA-compliant bathroom, employee housing, water storage, or solar infrastructure.
Like farmers in any other sector of agriculture, cannabis farmers need the flexibility to make improvements on their farms, modernize infrastructure, and adapt to environmental and market conditions. Measure A would severely restrict, and in some cases outright prohibit, this needed flexibility.
Undermines our environment, economy, and public safety
“This initiative will do damage to the legal cannabis industry and the County as a whole. This is likely to place farmers struggling to survive in a place where they can no longer compete in the legal market and must either sell or abandon their farms or return to the illicit market. It is the illicit cannabis industry that has been predominantly responsible for environmental damage.”- Humboldt County Planning and Building Department Analysis of Measure A
Nothing in Measure A would affect environmentally destructive unlicensed cultivation. Instead, Measure A’s restrictions are only applicable to legal and permitted cannabis cultivators who are already subject to extensive environmental regulation through the county, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Water Board, and the Department of Cannabis Control.
By making legal cultivation not viable in Humboldt, Measure A would interrupt the environmental improvements that these farms are required to make under regulation - including improvements related to roads, power sources, buildings, culverts, fire resilience, and forest stewardship - and remove incentives for environmental improvements on rural properties.
At the same time, the poor drafting of Measure A would restrict or prohibit environmental improvements by farms which remain in the legal market. By defining “expansion” to include “any increase in the number or size of any structure used in connection with cultivation,” and restricting these expansions, the HCRI would restrict the installation of environmental improvements such as water storage, solar arrays, and other structures for environmental improvement.
Humboldt’s existing cannabis ordinances were developed over years to include strong regulations to protect the environment, public safety, and neighborhoods, while also ensuring that permitted cannabis cultivation is viable for farmers. By undermining the viability of Humboldt’s cannabis ordinances, Measure A would also undermine the environmental, public safety, and neighborhood benefits of having a functional cannabis ordinance.
Cuts the public out, invites lawyers in
“Unlike the current County cannabis rules, this measure was created without community input or oversight and lacks substantial support from our local environmental advocates and enforcement agencies. If approved by voters, it would establish 38 pages of onerous new rules and restrictions. To update these rules and regs, it would require another expensive trip to the ballot box to make any changes.” - Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee
Measure A would establish 38 pages of complex and often vague new law, restrict the Board of Supervisors from amending these laws, and add extensive General Plan language that requires all other aspects Humboldt County Code to be further amended within very narrow boundaries established by the initiative.
The net effect of these changes would be to exclude the public almost entirely from involvement in the county's cannabis policies. Attempts to amend to Humboldt's cannabis ordinances, or contested interpretations for how the initiative's text should be implemented, would be potential grounds for litigation.
Disagreements over the interpretation of the initiative, and the permissibility of amending its provisions, have already resulted in substantial conflict, including a 27 page county analysis and two private attorney letters collectively spanning an additional 26 pages.
Should the initiative pass, there is no reason to believe that these disagreements would subside. Regardless of how the county interprets the initiative in implementation, stakeholders within the county - whether neighbors, cannabis farmers, environmental groups, or other members of the public - will be incentivized to interpret the initiative differently, and seek to resolve these differences through litigation - putting the county, and taxpayers, on the hook for the initiative's poor drafting.