Humboldt County supervisors have agreed to resume work on a draft ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries without setting a cap on the number of them.
Decision-making on the draft ordinance advanced further at the May 10 Board of Supervisors meeting. The dispensary ordinance emerged several years ago and was put on hold due to federal pressure.
But the legal atmosphere has changed with the state’s recent approval of a licensing system. Approval of a dispensary ordinance will be accompanied by rescinding the ban on new dispensaries that was approved at the height of the federal clampdown.
At last week’s meeting, a majority of supervisors voted to direct staff to return with a version of the ordinance that removes a 15-dispensary cap and a Request for Proposals application system.
Instead, the draft ordinance will call for a conventional Conditional Use Permit process for approval of new dispensaries.
During a public comment period, many of those involved in the medical marijuana industry recommended giving it enough leeway to thrive. Industry advocate Luke Bruner told supervisors that Humboldt “risks being economically wiped out” by Oakland.
“They’ve openly stated, they’re here to eat our lunch,” Bruner said, adding that the city has adopted a license-based system which allows cottage industry such as “bud and breakfast” tourist businesses.
Representatives of marijuana advocacy groups also highlighted the potential for regulating tourist-serving businesses, saying it would support small-scale farming, generate tax revenue and prevent the emergence of unregulated activity.
Management employees of the Hummingbird Healing Center, a dispensary that’s seeking to open in McKinleyville, urged supervisors to act quickly to allow new dispensaries.
But retired doctor George Jutila warned against permissiveness, saying he’s seen “a generation of youth destroyed by marijuana.”
Marilyn Jerkovich, director of the Arcata-based Humboldt Patient Resource Center dispensary, disagreed with Jutila and said regulation is key to legitimizing the industry.
But she suggested that local capacity may be limited, saying, “We take care of all of Humboldt County with two other dispensaries and we’re not so busy that we can’t take care of people.”
The board recently approved a commercial medical marijuana ordinance that covers other aspects and Supervisor Estelle Fennell said both it and the dispensary ordinance can be modified if needed. And she put forth a challenge to advocates of small-scale marijuana production.
“I challenge those people to come into compliance,” she said. “I challenge those people to come in to the Planning Department and start the process.”
Supervisor Rex Bohn had doubts about removing the cap from the ordinance.
“Liquor licenses have caps,” he said, adding that even with a limited number of dispensaries, the county is fulfilling patients’ needs.
“I’ve never had anybody in Humboldt County say they’re having a hard time getting their medicine — seriously,” said Bohn.
Most supervisors supported a motion by Fennell to have staff return with an updated draft ordinance minus the cap on dispensary numbers. Bohn was the only supervisor to vote against it and Supervisor Virginia Bass said that her vote in support of it doesn’t mean that she’ll ultimately support removal of the cap.
County planners said it will take about six weeks for the revised ordinance to return for consideration. They also said the so-called “bud and breakfast” permitting is best left to a future phase.