Regulating the “Green Rush”: Humboldt Co. Board of Supervisors Considers New Ordinance


Eureka, Ca., (KIEM)- Controlling cannabis cultivation in the county may be easier said than done for the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors (alliteration included). The planning commission presented their recommendation, that the county adopt a new commercial cannabis cultivation ordinance Monday.

The law for coastal and inland cannabis cultivation, processing, manufacturing and testing is a first step toward comprehensive regulation of the newly legalized industry. Just as growers grapple with new codes and taxes, some groups would argue legislators are grappling with policy that moves an industry that’s dwelt long in the shadows into the light.

Just as the planning commissioners presented what they called a “gift” of policy (heavy lifting done) “wrapped in a bow.” Tribal officials and environmental activists prepared to raise their voices to point out what they say are inadequacies in the ordinance.

“We need to make sure that it doesn’t harm our environment, our sacred sights, or our freedom of religion.” Amy Cordalis, the general council for the Yurok Tribe (and a tribal member) explains. “The way the ordinance stands today, we’re concerned that it doesn’t take precautions.. to protect those interests, so we’re asking the county to delay voting on the ordinance.”

The ordinance also lays out a separate resolution that plans to set a “unit cap” per watershed for the number of permits that will be issued. In the past, that unit cap has set at about four permits per individual. The supervisors may consider allowing 5,000 permits per watershed, and 3,000 for “critical watersheds.”

“The county needs to go water shed by watershed and do a real environmental impacts analysis to determine how much cannabis cultivation these rivers and streams can really accommodate.” Greg Tucker, the Natural Resource Policy Advocate for the Karuk Tribe says. “Our fish are in dire straights. If we don’t do something quickly, we’re going to start losing important fish.”

The executive director of the Friends of the Eel River, Stephanie Tidwell, also appeared at the meeting to speak up. “They[The Board of Supervisors] are poised to permit far more cultivation that either our streams or the market can bear.” She explains.

As far as the impact cultivation has on watersheds? Even the planning commission didn’t disagree that extraction and growth operations take a toll on fisheries. “In the Eel River watershed, the South Fork Eel in particular, we have seen pretty alarming levels of summer dewatering and sediment loading to salmon bearing streams.” Tidwell says.

This is not just an environmental. The Yurok and Klamath tribes have been working closely for spiritual reasons. “Our waterways, our mountains, they’re were we practice our religion…. they’re our church.” Frankie Myers, the Yurok Tribal Heritage Preservation Officer tells News Channel 3.

Paul Porter is an advocate for marijuana farmers. His group, Growing Together, provides support and financing for growers. “If they don’t expand permitting, that will be a blow to the county’s economy.” Porter says.

He adds, “Environmentalists need to understand that this is the life blood of the county. The state and local laws are going to force people in to good environmental compliance.” Voicing a concern many have that illegal farmers could do more damage than they would if they were permitted.
But taking that approach may be jumping the gun according to tribal advocates. “We certainly have to strike the right balance between rules and regulations and having people come and legitimize this industry which we know is real, but there has to be a combination of whips and carrots. There has to be incentives for people. There has to be enforcement actions for people who are not complying. That’s something we simply haven’t seen.” Tucker explains.
Myers echoes that the county simply doesn’t have enough staff to handle enforcement for the ordinance they propose. He says, as long as they take a step back and consider what the tribe requires (in terms of environmental protections and a permit cap), their prepared to help the county enforce permit regulations. “We will take responsibility for our ancestral land.” Myers says.
“As we head into the green rush we need to engage in the process in a way that’s not harmful to our natural resources.” Cordalis says before heading inside the court house to speak before the Board of Supervisors.
Today’s meeting was simply the first step toward adopting this (or any other lasting cannabis cultivation ordinance).