County’s First Marijuana Permits Allow Large-Scale Grows

The county’s first permit approvals under its commercial marijuana production ordinance will allow of six acres of new outdoor cultivation on a 600-acre site in the Honeydew area.
Six conditional use permits for medical marijuana cultivation were approved for the Ferndale-based Honeydew Farms LLC at the county Planning Commission’s July 7 meeting.
The approved permits will allow 271,000 square feet of new grows on the 600-acre site and bring existing cultivation on a separate 200-acre Timber Production Zone (TPZ) parcel into compliance under the county’s ordinance, which went into effect in late February.
The ordinance bans new grows on TPZ sites but allows existing ones to be permitted.
Located near the intersection of Mattole and Wilder Ridge roads in Honeydew, the permitted grow site’s existing cultivation includes nine greenhouses amounting to 25,720 square feet of grow area on the larger parcel and five greenhouses with 17,800 square feet of grow area on the smaller TPZ parcel.
The county’s ordinance sets grow size and permitting standards based on parcel sizes. On parcels of 320 acres or larger, one acre of grow area is allowed for every 100 acres of property.
Three of the Honeydew site’s seven cultivation permits are for areas that will be leased, as the ordinance sets a limit of four permits per single entity.
The ordinance also requires that grows be sited on prime agricultural areas to ensure that cultivation is occurring where farming is an exclusive use. Alex Moore, the owner of Honeydew Farms, said higher-elevation areas of the site that are not zoned for prime ag would be better for marijuana growing but using the prime areas is “not a hardship.”
Most commissioners enthusiastically supported approval of the permits.
Commissioner Ben Shepherd said he’s “pleased” with Moore’s work on complying with the county’s new permit requirements. “It’s a very complete package — I was surprised that our first (permit hearing) is for one at this scale but I can see that there’s a significant amount of work that went into this,” he continued.
Shepherd added that it’s “particularly heartening” that a variety of state agencies support Moore’s cultivation and site management plans.
But Commissioner Dave Edmunds noted that there was significant public comment during the ordinance’s development in support of smaller, high quality grows and in opposition to larger ones.
Moore said he doesn’t agree with the premise that larger grows are inappropriate. “Especially with legalization coming, six acres could be mom and pop here in the next 10 years,” he told commissioners.
He also said he disagrees with groups like the Humboldt-Mendocino Marijuana Advocacy Project, which sued the county over the ordinance, in equating large grows with lesser quality.
“We have multiple employees,” Moore said. “I feel like our quality, across the board, is as good as it can be.”
He added, “We’re going to need everybody, whether you’re a small farmer or a large farmer, to get Humboldt County’s brand on every shelf of every dispensary throughout California so we can establish ourselves as players in this market.”
Commissioner Alan Bongio said he visited Moore’s grow site that day with Supervisor Rex Bohn and Rob Wall, the county’s planning director.
“This guy has done it right — I’ve seen some grows and I’ve never seen one that was done as good as this,” he continued. “I was really impressed and I learned a lot about cultivation that I didn’t know.”
Commissioner Lee Ulansey pushed for allowing Moore to re-locate one of the grow areas to a non-prime ag location. But Wall said that would violate the ordinance, whose basic environmental review didn’t account for it.
A more thorough environmental review will be done when the ordinance is re-worked and use of non-prime ag areas could be considered under a new version, Wall said.
The permits were approved by a 4 to 1 vote, with Edmonds dissenting. Commissioners Noah Levy and Kevin McKenny were absent.