Sunday, March 19, 2017

TL;DR: The Cannabis Issue

Posted By on Sun, Mar 19, 2017 at 8:02 PM

  • Courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Busy week? We get it. Here are some highlights from this week's cover package to get you caught up.

Humboldt County's biggest industry is in flux as it moves from the shadows out into the light. This week, in the Journal's first ever issue dedicated almost entirely to the industry, we look at various aspects of the cannabis business, including efforts to regulate its bad actors, its impact on local cultures and communities, the micro-industry springing up to help growers get legit and how a rural plot of land with a cultivation permit attached to it has become akin to a winning lottery ticket.

Here are five quotes that combine to summarize our cover package and offer insight into the industry at a unique moment in its history.
A Budding Industry” explores the business of consultants, scientists and lawyers who are helping cannabis farmers get legal. As Henry’s comment indicates, it’s a growing industry, with new businesses cropping up all over to help the 2,300 growers who are looking to go legit work their way through the county’s permitting process, as well as those of the regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. But as one consultant warns, “there’s a lot of snake oil salesmen out there,” with some “consultants” simply looking to fleece growers.

40 Acres and a Permit” looks at how the prices of rural parcels with a cannabis cultivation permit pending with the count of Humboldt have skyrocketed. Take the 200-acre property in Kneeland with three permit applications. It appraised for $437,000 in 2013 and just sold for $4.64 million. Or there’s the ranch in Maple Creek with 4 acres of permits that sold eight months ago for $1.7 million but is now back on the market for $11.9 million. Meanwhile, the market for permitless parcels seems almost nonexistent, with one real estate agent telling the Journal that “it’s hard to even give them away.”

Culture Change” tells the story of two men in two towns at opposite ends of the county who share a similar vision. Rio Anderson and Mark Rowley love their towns, Garberville and Willow Creek, respectively. But both lament the impact the black market marijuana industry has had on the local culture. Both desperately want to see community replace secrecy and isolation and share their thoughts on how to get there.

The Carrot and the Stick” begins with a look at some hard numbers, followed by a question. By law enforcement estimates, there are about 10,000 marijuana farms in Humboldt County. About 2,300 of them have applied for the permits needed to legitimize. What’s being done to weed the other 7,700? It turns out, not much. As the story explains, regulator agencies are spread too thin to make much of a dent and no one is volunteering the resources to crack down on Humboldt County’s black market grows.

The Strain Name Game” pores through the 285 names and phrases that include the word “Humboldt” and have been federally trademarked — they range from the winky (Baked in Humboldt) to the direct (Humboldt Hash). The interesting thing is that none of these trademarks are actually for marijuana products. That’s because you can’t trademark something that’s against federal law, explains Cohn. Instead, all these trademarks are a way of priming the pump — people and companies making sure that if the federal prohibition is lifted they have a foot in the door with a name they can capitalize on.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Sessions: Marijuana Only 'Slightly Less Awful' than Heroin

Posted By on Fri, Mar 17, 2017 at 1:52 PM

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. - GAGE SKIDMORE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
  • U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions tossed some more shade on marijuana this week, adding to growing concerns that a federal crackdown is looming for the $7 billion industry.

Speaking about efforts to combat violent crime and “restore public safety” before a group of state and local law enforcement in Richmond, Virginia, Sessions spoke about the need to curb the nation’s growing heroin epidemic.

“So we need to focus on the third way we can fight drug use: preventing people from ever taking drugs in the first place,” Sessions said in the prepared speech. “I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Final Numbers for County Cannabis Applications Show Late Push

Posted By on Tue, Jan 3, 2017 at 5:35 PM

Three generations of growers, Rain on the Earth with her nephews Mark Switzer (far right) and grand-nephew Myles Moscato (center) pose with Wall as Moscato proudly holds the receipt for his application, the first submitted in the county. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • Three generations of growers, Rain on the Earth with her nephews Mark Switzer (far right) and grand-nephew Myles Moscato (center) pose with Wall as Moscato proudly holds the receipt for his application, the first submitted in the county.
Almost one-third of the total commercial cannabis permit applications filed with the County of Humboldt in 2016 were filed on deadline day, according to numbers from the cannabis services division of the Humboldt County Planning and Building Department. As of the Dec. 30 deadline, a total of 2,334 applications had been filed. Eight hundred and eighteen of those arrived after the Journal checked in with county planner Steve Lazar last Tuesday morning.

“Many are very incomplete,” said Lazar, adding that it could take “several years” to process all of the applications, which they hope to get ready for processing before the state’s new marijuana laws take effect in 2018.

“Some will go quicker than others,” he added. “Some are grossly incomplete, with people just trying to get it in before the deadline.”

Just prior to deadline, Lazar said county staff were busy but “hanging in there,” and that consultants were scrambling to help their clients get in before the deadline.

Megan Azevedo, an environmental planner with Green Road Consulting, said the firm’s staff had been “pretty darn busy” for the last three weeks.

“We’ve had a lot of last minute clients who want to get in the door,” said Azevedo in a phone interview today. “Two weeks ago we were swamped.”

Green Road helped about 200 clients fill out their application forms, complete “plot plans” of their cultivation areas and sign acknowledgement and indemnification agreements as well as navigate the county’s regulation guidelines.

Azevedo said many of the clients were surprised by the strict zoning regulations and the sudden increase in application fees, which hiked about a month ago.

She added that Green Road’s staff expected to be pretty busy over the next six months assisting with applications that had been turned in incomplete.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Eureka City Council Receives Plaque, Rejects Cannabis Urgency Ordinance

Posted By on Fri, Nov 18, 2016 at 8:51 AM

The city of Eureka received an exclusive award Tuesday night, accepting the official Stoplight Plaque from the Willits Mayor Bruce Burton.

Burton, who visited the city council meeting along with Willits City Manager Adrienne Moore, said the plaque had been in Willits' possession for more than 20 years. 
A 1971 map detailing some proposed reroutes of Highway 101. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • A 1971 map detailing some proposed reroutes of Highway 101.

"Since 1994 the city of Willits has been known as the first stoplight north of San Francisco," he said.
"Cloverdale held it for some 20 odd years, since 1962 when they bypassed Santa Rosa and Healdsburg.
In '94 Cloverdale brought this little plaque to us. Now it's time to pass it on to you."

Willits lost its distinction as the last stoplight on U.S. Highway 101 north of San Francisco on Nov. 4, when a new bypass opened, releasing a bottleneck in the major thoroughfare and, according to Burton, "giving us our town back."

Burton presented the plaque with its miniature stoplight to Mayor Frank Jager and suggested he use it to control public comment.

"I think you may end up holding it for longer than anyone else," he said.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Three Homicide Victims over Weekend

Posted By on Tue, Sep 6, 2016 at 5:15 PM

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office is investigating three homicide cases this week after two men were discovered dead at a large marijuana grow operation near Hyampom and an August robbery victim died of his gunshot wounds over the holiday weekend.

Deputies were called out to the Hyampom scene by the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office on Sunday, which was determined to be just within the Humboldt County limits.

“We’re still investigating the incident and the investigation, at this point, leads us to multiple assailants,” sheriff’s office Public Information Officer Selena Zorrilla-Mendoza said.

The sheriff’s office also identified Dana Hudson, 44, as the victim of an armed robbery in Willow Creek in August. He died Monday from “multiple complications from gunshot wounds,” according to a news release.

From the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office:

On Sunday, September 4, 2016 at approximately 11:30 a.m. the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office received a report from the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) regarding a double homicide. Deputies responded to the incident location, a residence on US Forest Service Road 3N14 South Fork Mountain in Hyampom.

Deputies met with TCSO Deputies and were told two male adults were deceased in the residence.

Deputies located several living structures and large marijuana grow sites throughout the property. HCSO Detectives responded to investigate the homicides. The investigation at this time indicates multiple assailants. Additional suspect information will be released accordingly.

The Drug Enforcement Unit obtained a search warrant for the marijuana grows on site. The search warrant was served and revealed another marijuana grow on a neighboring property. A search warrant was obtained for the neighboring property and served on Monday, September 5th.

Autopsies will be performed on Tuesday, September 6th. Names of the victims will be released after next of kin has been notified.

The investigation is ongoing.

Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case is encouraged to call Detective Peterson at 707-268-3663 or the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251.

From the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office:

On Monday, September 5, 2016 the victim from the armed robbery shooting passed away. The victim has been identified as 44 year old Dana Hudson. Hudson died from multiple complications from gunshot wounds.

This case is now being investigated as a homicide.

Previous press release: On 08-12-2016 at 11:50 a.m. Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Deputies responded to a report of an armed robbery that just occurred off Sabretooth Road, Willow Creek. It was reported to the Sheriff’s Office that approximately 2- 3 male suspects took the victim’s yellow pickup truck. While deputies were responding to the scene they received information that a male victim had been shot.

The male victim is currently being airlifted to an out of the area hospital. At this time unknown condition on the male victim. Sheriff Deputies are currently securing the scene. Detectives have been called out to take over the investigation

Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Registration Deadlines Loom for Marijuana Farmers

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 2:24 PM

  • File
Humboldt County marijuana farmer's train to legitimacy is preparing to leave the station.

There are a couple of deadlines looming for marijuana growers throughout the county who want to go legit. Most imminently, Tuesday is the last day for people or businesses to register existing medical cannabis cultivation sites with the county. This is a necessary step for those wanting to be deemed in “good standing” under California’s new Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, a designation that will make folks eligible for “priority processing” for a state license when they come available.

Now to be fully eligible for the “good standing” designation, operations must be fully permitted and reviewed by the Humboldt County sheriff, the district attorney, the agricultural commissioner and the division of environmental health. But the first step down that road is registration, and the deadline to get the three-page registration packets to Planning and Building is the close of business Tuesday (packets can also be sent electronically or postmarked by the end of the day on Aug. 23).

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Medical Marijuana Tax Bill Goes Up in Smoke

Posted By on Sat, Aug 13, 2016 at 2:45 PM

The Legislature has backed away from a pair of bills that would have imposed next taxes on medical marijuana. - PHOTO BY SHANGO LOS
  • photo by Shango Los
  • The Legislature has backed away from a pair of bills that would have imposed next taxes on medical marijuana.
The second bill by a North Coast lawmaker seeking to tax medical marijuana has died quietly in the California Legislature, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat is reporting.

North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, had authored a unique bill aiming to tax the state’s booming medical marijuana market that appeared to have widespread support, passing the Assembly with a 60-12 vote and easily clearing a Senate committee a couple of months ago. But Thursday, according to the Press Democrat, the bill was shelved by the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee without comment. Making things all the bleaker for the bill’s prospects of resurfacing, Wood told the Press Democrat on Friday that he wasn’t given a reason for the committee’s decision and that he is “hugely disappointed.”

Wood’s bill would have imposed an excise tax of $4.75, $9.25 or $13.25 per ounce of produced marijuana bud depending on cultivation volume, and a $1.25 per-plant levy for immature plants. The bill was expected to raise up to $80 million annually, 90 percent of which would have been earmarked for local law enforcement and environmental cleanups.

A bill by North Coast Sen. Mike McGuire that would have imposed a 10 percent sales tax on medical marijuana products died in committee in June, as we previously reported. Opponents of both bills had voiced an ethical problem with imposing revenue generating taxes on a medicine.

The apparent death of Wood’s bill leaves no active medical marijuana tax bills in the Legislature this year. However, Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which seeks to legalize recreational use in California and is set to go before voters in November, does include some hefty tax provisions. Specifically, the measure would impose a $9.25 per ounce excise tax on all marijuana production and a 15 percent tax on all sales. In total, revenue from the proposition is projected to reach up to $1 billion annually.

For more, check out the full Press Democrat story here and prior Journal coverage here.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

Lawsuit Settled, but HUMMAP Wants More

Posted By on Fri, Jul 8, 2016 at 4:28 PM

  • Humboldt County Sheriff's Office
The suit the Humboldt-Mendocino Marijuana Advocacy Project brought against the county of Humboldt following its January adoption of a commercial medical marijuana ordinance was settled on July 5, but HuMMAP says there’s still much work left to be done.

The suit, filed in February, was an attempt to “block the environmental damage” it saw as an inevitability following the passage of the ordinance. Among HuMMAP’s chief concerns was the lack of an environmental impact report. As a condition of the settlement, the county has agreed not to modify or accept permit applications past the Dec. 31 deadline until an EIR is prepared. Additional language will be added to the ordinance to address noise from generators, the purchase of carbon credits and the role of Cal Fire. Cal Fire, in the words of HuMMAP’s press release, has such “strong objections … that they did not wish to be substantially involved in the permitting process.” (Cal Fire's public information officer did return calls or emails from the Journal; we will update if contacted.)

In its press release, HUMMAP calls out “environmental groups,” saying “as a trade group we saw it was necessary to make up for unacceptable lapses by environmentalists.” The Environmental Protection Information Center declined to comment on this issue.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Cottage Marijuana Farm Bill and Other Provisions Pass Assembly

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 5:07 PM

  • Grant Scott-Goforth
A newly drafted protection for "micro" weed farmers is making its way through state lawmakers' chambers. 

The Assembly just passed North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood's “Cottage Cannabis Farmers Bill" that would add a new medical marijuana cultivator license to the state regulatory framework passed last year. The new license type will be available to outdoor farms under 2,500 square feet and indoor grows under 500 square feet, and will be regulated by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“We are trying to ensure small medical cannabis growers on the North Coast can continue to do business as this industry moves forward," Wood said in a press release. "It is not fair to require the small farmers to adhere to the same standards as larger operations."

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Remains Found at Cuneo Creek Park Identified

Posted By on Thu, May 12, 2016 at 1:16 PM

Human remains found in Cuneo Creek State Park in 2014 have been identified by the county coroner's office as those of a Mexican citizen, 31-year-old Luis Eduardo Raya. The Journal originally broke the story here. (Heads up: the original story includes a photograph of the remains.)

While the press release says the remains were identified via DNA testing in August 2015, Undersheriff William Honsal told the Journal there was no call for the information to be released to the public at that time. The coroner made arrangements with Raya's family to transport his remains back to Mexico.

But a recent large-scale marijuana bust near the same area (see press release, below) renewed public attention to the remains, with some media outlets reporting that the two might be connected. This, says Honsal, is why the coroner's office was directed to send out a press release identifying Raya. Neither Honsal nor Deputy Coroner Roy Horton could confirm a connection between Raya and the grow site when the Journal contacted them Wednesday, and a cause of death for Raya is still unknown. 

From the California Department of Parks and Recreation:

WEOTT, Calif. - California State Park Rangers, assisted by multiple agencies, raided an illegal marijuana grow in Humboldt Redwoods State Park removing marijuana seedling plants, an assault rifle and toxic chemicals Monday, May 9, 2016.

Three armed suspects were located in a nearby illegal camp near Bull Creek and fled on foot when contacted by law enforcement. The three suspects remain at large.

At the illegal camp, rangers recovered an MK99 type assault rifle with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Rangers also found rodenticides and Furdadan, a highly toxic pesticide, within the grow site. Approximately 2,000 seedling marijuana plants were removed.

Twenty acres of State Park land had been illegally cleared of native vegetation. The marijuana plants were watered directly from water diverted from the tributaries of Bull Creek.

Forty cubic yards of trash, fertilizers, pesticides, rodenticides, water hoses, hazardous material and other supplies were removed from the area. Disposal costs were paid for in part with assistance from the Humboldt County Public Works’ "Measure Z" public safety funding.

The marijuana grow and camp was found within a quarter-mile of pristine old-growth redwood forest. Rangers were assisted by the California National Guard, California Highway Patrol, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Lear Asset Management. A team from the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps assisted with trash removal.

Anyone with information regarding this particular resource crime or others on our State Parks lands please contact California State Parks at (707) 445-6547.

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