Lifting of Dispensary Ban Activates Ordinance

Humboldt County supervisors have rescinded a ban on new medical marijuana dispensaries and will consider changing a dispensary regulation ordinance to allow onsite marijuana use.
At its July 19 meeting, the Board of Supervisors rescinded the ban and made minor changes to the dispensary ordinance approved last year. Supervisors also agreed to consider further changes — including making room for onsite consumption — in the ordinance, which will be activated with the lifting of the ban.
The ban on new dispensaries was enacted several years ago, when federal raids and subsequent court cases created a hostile legal environment for approval of medical marijuana facilities.
Since then, the state has set up a licensing structure through the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act and federal pressure has eased. The vote to rescind the ban was easily reached but there was other marijuana-related business to take care of.
Steve Lazar, a lead planner with the county’s new Cannabis Services Division, said that with the ordinance’s activation, a semantic matter needs to be addressed — whether or not to refer to marijuana as marijuana or cannabis. 
From a regulatory point of view, there is no difference. “I know people have strong feelings and some are going to fall on the ‘marijuana’ side and some will fall on the ‘cannabis’ side but it won’t change our ordinance one iota,” said Lazar.
Supervisors agreed to change the term “marijuana” to “cannabis” in the ordinance and also to change “grows” to “farms.”
A more substantial change would allow onsite consumption of marijuana at dispensaries’ farm-based tasting rooms. Lazar said that change is substantial enough to require Planning Commission review.
The proposal has supporters, including marijuana farmer Alex Moore, who said Humboldt’s marijuana tourism could rival Napa’s winery tourism.
He told supervisors that the Napa Valley wineries’ ability to sell direct to consumers and have tasting rooms generates substantial sales taxes. “I would think everybody would think this is something we should be looking at here, in Humboldt County,” Moore continued.
Supervisors decided to consider onsite consumption for later decision-making.
Another consideration is setting a cap on the number of dispensaries permitted in the unincorporated county area. When supervisors approved the ordinance, they discussed setting a cap of 15 dispensaries but didn’t include it in the ordinance.
Board Chair Mark Lovelace said the county can react to conditions as they arise and set a cap later if needed.
“It’s only set in stone until we decide to change what’s written on that stone and we can do that at any time, based on reaction from the community and the industry, and seeing how many of these come in,” he continued.
Supervisors unanimously voted to re-visit consideration of a dispensary cap in six months or when 15 permit applications are submitted. They also agreed on the wording changes and to accommodate research laboratories in the ordinance.
The board’s vote also approved defining primary caregivers as being authorized as dispensary customers and to refer onsite consumption to the board’s medical marijuana subcommittee for analysis and possible referral to the Planning Commission.
As with the county’s other marijuana laws, the dispensary ordinance only applies to areas outside of the coastal zone. Its application within the coastal zone awaits approval from the state’s Coastal Commission.