California’s Cannabis Capitals: Oakland and Humboldt

SD-LegalCornerAs California’s cannabis industry steadies itself after the last few months of municipal freakouts, with ban after ban sweeping the state, let’s spend some time looking at the progress made in some friendlier territories. At the county level, there can be no other leader than legendary Humboldt County, heart of the famed Emerald Triangle and home to more than 4,000 outdoor cannabis farms. At the city level, the city of Oakland is home to Oaksterdam University and the famed Harborside Health Center. In both of these jurisdictions, elected officials and city staff understood well over a year ago that their respective local ordinances needed updating to prepare for new medical cannabis license types and for adult use legalization (likely) right around the corner. After many public meetings and with substantial effort by staff, both of these communities will soon have new regulations governing a newly expanded licit cannabis industry.

Up north, the grassroots industry organization California Cannabis Voice Humboldt began hosting barbecues and informational sessions a year and a half ago, establishing personal and trusted relationships with members of their Board of Supervisors and sending speakers to Rotary Club and local Chamber of Commerce meetings. Ongoing compliance outreach efforts of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and a collaborative county staff has brought previously cautious cannabis farmers into the public eye as new, comprehensive medical cannabis cultivation ordinance was drafted, debated, re-drafted, debated again and ultimately approved. The resulting law allows for up to an acre of cannabis canopy per parcel to be cultivated in an environmentally sound and for-profit manner while staying true to the Emerald Triangle specialty of high-end connoisseur, sun-grown cannabis flower. Farms are developing brand identities and listing their strains in catalogs to pick and choose from, while groups of farms are teaming up to form agricultural cooperatives to help better distribute and market the county’s famed bounty.

In Oakland, the mayor and city council have appointed a Cannabis Regulatory Commission which holds its meetings in the council chambers in city hall. We have been holding meetings since 2014 on the subject of adding licenses for cultivation, manufacturing, testing laboratories and other activities to our existing dispensary ordinance, as well as adding more dispensaries licenses and delivery-services licenses. The majority of our conversation has not concerned operating conditions nor application procedures, which takes up the bulk of the conversation in most other jurisdictions. Back in February 2015 we laid out several proposed business activities and appropriate license types for each, then spent much of the rest of the year on other matters. From our experience, the most pertinent questions to consider revolve around zoning and placing business activities in appropriate parts of the city.

Little more needs to be considered by local governments as they begin implementing the state MMRSA framework, yet cities and counties will likely continue to screw it up. Not a week goes by that we don’t see a city attempt to create guidelines for testing laboratories or a sheriff’s office attempt to determine how much cultivation yield a farmer should be allowed to produce. These types of micromanagement of commercial activity is frustrating to witness, yet it goes on and on. Hopefully, other California counties and cities learn to let the state agencies sweat the hard stuff and stick to that realm of decision-making that they are uniquely positioned to fullfill. Humboldt and Oakland should serve as an example to the rest of the state of what to do, while from Long Beach to Yuba there are so many examples of what local governments should not do. Not every locality has a homegrown activist organization or an appointed panel of experts, so it will be fascinating to local governments stumble their way towards better public policy.

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