Friday, September 4, 2015

Cannabis, Enviro Groups Agree! Or, No Wait, They Don't.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 4, 2015 at 12:48 PM

click to enlarge CCVH treasurer Luke Bruner announces the draft ordinance in July. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • CCVH treasurer Luke Bruner announces the draft ordinance in July.
When California Cannabis Voice Humboldt, the political action committee behind two proposed county marijuana ordinances, announced agreement with environmental groups yesterday, it provoked a mixed reaction from those groups.

CCVH was responding to a letter sent to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors by four environmental groups that outlined the protections the groups believe a marijuana land use ordinance needs to contain. (You can read the entire letter below.)

As the Journal has reported, CCVH and local environmental groups have been at odds since the marijuana advocacy group began working on its draft ordinance. Environmental groups have complained about the allowed canopy sizes, among other details, and have accused CCVH of locking them out of the draft process and ignoring their recommendations.

Those recommendations were laid out in the Sept. 2 letter sent to the board of supervisors, which was signed by the heads of the Environmental Protection Information Center, Humboldt Baykeeper, The Northcoast Environmental Center and Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment. (Here's a link to the PDF of that letter:  Coalition Letter )

So it came as a surprise to many, when, a day later, CCVH released a sunny response to the letter, saying the environmental groups’ comments represented “divisions bridged” and “the grassroots fully united” in an effort to convince local and state officials to pass regulations.

CCVH lavished EPIC Director Natalynne DeLapp with praise, also thanking the other groups. That extension of gratitude to the NEC is noteworthy, because CCVH is also in the process of releasing a seven-part series of essays responding to critiques made by NEC Executive Director Dan Ehresman during the drafting process.

CCVH also said the group was “in full agreement with all that appears in the letter,” and the logos of the PAC and the four environmental groups were prominent at the top of the letterhead emailed to CCVH subscribers. (Read CCVH’s full press release below.)
click to enlarge From CCVH's newsletter announcement.
  • From CCVH's newsletter announcement.

But when the Lost Coast Outpost published the release and proclaimed a “consensus,” Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt took issue. CCVH had never reached out to her organization, she told the Journal, and she wanted to make clear that divisions were not bridged. She said that over the course of eight months, CCVH has ignored environmental groups’ recommendations and she’s not confident that the group will accept them now.

Kalt said that after her comments appeared on the Lost Coast Outpost, CCVH board president Andre Carey reached out to her to apologize. Carey declined to comment to the Journal.

But EPIC's DeLapp said she did speak with CCVH before the group announced they were on the “same team,” and said the whole thing was blown out of proportion. The letter sent by the environmental coalition was simply a statement to the supervisors that they wanted to see certain protections in any ordinance that the board would consider adopting.

CCVH’s response, DeLapp said, was the group agreeing with environmentalists as to “what needed to happen, what needed to be included in an ordinance.”

The use of the word “consensus,” she complained, implied that CCVH and the environmental groups had sat down and hashed it out. “It gets perceived as we are all endorsing what CCVH is doing. All we were doing was giving recommendations.”

Still, she said, “I think it is really good that there’s common ground and that CCVH agrees with our comments and wants to include these principles in their ordinance.”

The next draft is expected to be released Sept. 15.

Of the environmental groups’ recommendations, CCVH only singles one out in its letter, saying it will drop all references to timber production zones (TPZs). Previous drafts of the ordinance would have made marijuana cultivation a principally permitted use on TPZ lands — private properties set aside for the preservation of timber. This concerned environmentalists, who said it had the potential to further fragment properties and harm wildlife habitats.

What’s unclear, based on the release, is whether removing “all references to TPZ” will actually prohibit marijuana cultivation on parcels with that designation, or will just leave a nebulous regulation.

Small agriculture is currently a principally permitted use on TPZ parcels — so CCVH claims that growing marijuana would fit into that category, and wanted to specifically say as much. But DeLapp contends that cultivating marijuana is not yet recognized as an agricultural use, and so including that language in the ordinance would open the entire law to legal challenge, “meaning we would take it to the courts and hammer it out.”

That, she said was enough for CCVH to agree to remove the reference.

Kalt said simply taking out references to TPZ lands isn’t enough to protect those lands, but it’s a start. “We don’t want something to pass that explicitly state it’s allowed because we don’t want to see in expansion of [growing on TPZ lands].”

She would be happy to see TPZ regulations taken up in a later phase of marijuana land use ordinance, when there’s more discussion on the regulatory framework for new grows. But including it in an ordinance that grandfathers in existing grows is the wrong approach, she said.

CCVH says the next draft ordinance will also include a sunset date in 2020 that coincides with the end of a recently enacted water board regulatory program. With the option for changes to the ordinance with a 3/5 supervisor vote, CCVH argues, the ordinance will ensure local control.

From CCVH:

Just last night we were overjoyed to receive official comments from a coalition of local Humboldt environmental groups regarding our proposed Humboldt County Cannabis Cultivation Compliance Initiative & Excise Tax Initiative. These comments, submitted to us and the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on behalf of the Environmental Protection Information Center, Humboldt Baykeeper, Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment, and the North Coast Environmental Center were insightful, well-articulated, and thoughtful.

It is our profound hope that with these divisions bridged at the local level and with the grassroots fully united, we have empowered the grasstops to pass a Statewide framework this year in Sacramento. This local environmental coalition says it best, "It is particularly imperative to take action now given that salmon streams are imperiled due to the unprecedented expansion of the North Coast's cannabis industry."

Natalynne DeLapp, Executive Director of EPIC, deserves special credit on this matter. Her work on this topic has distinguished her as a leader par excellence in our community for the 21st century. Natalynne recently led EPIC's legal team in a multi-hour meeting, educating the CCVH Policy Committee on a multitude of forestry related issues (especially TPZ zoning). She clearly presented why removing TPZ entirely was the best public policy decision for our community. All references to TPZ will be removed from all future drafts.

CCVH is in full agreement with all that appears in their letter. We will begin adopting all proposed changes from this letter immediately in conjunction with Nossaman LLP's unparalleled Land Use team, as well as other additional changes/recommendations that have been requested/provided from leading environmental groups such as CalTrout, Trout Unlimited, and the California Nature Conservancy. Specific approval from our board will be required to agree to adopt a sunset provision of August 13, 2020 (the Regional Water Quality Control Board sunset date), and we are confident the entire board will unanimously approve this change. This meshes well with the clear provisions allowing the Humboldt Board of Supervisors to modify the text with a simple 3/5ths majority vote.

We firmly believe that, with these changes, the Land Use and Tax documents can provide the necessary local regulatory template framework for rural counties around California —adjusting square footage, tax, and permit matters— as best fits their community needs and values, or banning outright if necessary. This embodies local control!
We at CCVH and the larger Cannabis Community are deeply appreciative and exceedingly grateful for the extensive work put into this project by the best hearts and minds of Humboldt County, and leading experts from around the State and Nation. As we have said before, it is only when a community stands together, and works together, that true progress can be made. It is truly a historic time when local farmers step out of the shadows and stand side by side with the environmental community to walk into the future together. Not only a better future, and not only a brighter future, but a future that is uniquely ours. We believe the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors recognizes this. Their bravery to deal with this issue head on, paired with the unwavering voice of the community gives us immense hope that the Humboldt County we see our children being raised in will be an even better Humboldt County.

We again thank sincerely the leadership of EPIC, Humboldt Baykeeper, Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment, and the North Coast Environmental Center for joining us as we now move forward on the same team! To read the recommendations, click here.

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Grant Scott-Goforth

Grant Scott-Goforth has been an assistant editor and staff writer for The Journal since 2013.

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