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The Fortuna City Council voted unanimously Jan. 4 (with Councilmember Linda Gardner absent) to approve the first reading of an ordinance banning almost any medical marijuana activity, including cultivation for personal use, within city limits.

The city already has a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries on its books, but the expansion of the prohibitions, City Clerk Linda McGill told the Journal, was to maintain the city's local control when state regulations go into effect. The deadline for local ordinances to be in place is March 1, prompting a statewide scramble for city and county laws.

McGill says the council will likely revisit the issue, and that it's easier to pass strict regulations and loosen them later, rather than the other way around. She added that the League of California Cities is promoting prohibitions as a way for cities to maintain local regulatory control and revisit the issue after deadline.

The council will bring the ordinance back for a second reading on Jan. 18. If it's approved then, it will go into effect 30 days later.

As the Journal went to press, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors was holding its own discussion of a proposed outdoor medical marijuana cultivation ordinance — the same one that did a speed-run through the planning commission in November.

The board, in addition to hearing loads of public comment, began to discuss how it would prioritize the issues before it and come to a consensus in order to reach the March 1 deadline.

As the gears of bureaucracy run at full steam, environmental groups may pose the latest threat to a timely resolution.

Any law, as drafted by staff and approved by the board of supervisors, must come complete with a statement that it won't have a negative impact on the environment to avoid a full-blown environmental review, according to state law. This is called the mitigated negative declaration, and county staff has been drafting one of these documents as it writes and rewrites the proposed ordinance.

At the board's Dec. 15 hearing on the matter, Lovelace pointed out that that the county's challenge is greater than proving that its mitigated negative declaration is sufficient. It has to avoid a challenge to the document under California's Environmental Quality Act — if someone, or some group, demands a state review, the county will miss its March 1 deadline and cede all control of the local medical marijuana industry to the state. "We're done," Lovelace said.

Local enviro heavyweights the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC), Humboldt Baykeeper and Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment (SAFE) have seized on that fear. In a letter submitted to the board at the end of last year, the sometimes litigious groups write that the draft approved by the planning commission in November, which the supervisors are currently operating off of, does not match up with the accompanying mitigated negative declaration. All but threatening a lawsuit, the environmental groups write that the planning commission draft "strayed too far from the circulated MND and risks tying up this necessary and important ordinance in litigation."

To resolve that, the groups encourage supervisors to prohibit new marijuana grows in timber production zones and increase the types of grows that would require discretionary review, protections environmentalists have been seeking since the beginning.

"To move forward in a timely manner while bringing the cannabis community into the light and improving environmental conditions, we urge the Board to cautiously stay within the bounds of the circulated mitigated negative declaration," the letter reads.

The groups certainly have the capacity to challenge the declaration — but whether the supervisors take that threat seriously enough to tighten the drafted ordinance, and whether environmentalists would risk ceding local control by officially disputing the draft, remains to be seen. The Journal will continue to cover the topic.

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About The Author

Grant Scott-Goforth

Grant Scott-Goforth

Grant Scott-Goforth was an assistant editor and staff writer for The Journal from 2013 to 2017.

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